Methodist Healthcare - October 04, 2021

One of the best ways to care for your health when you’re a mom-to-be is to eat a well-balanced diet. Getting plenty of leafy greens, lean proteins and healthy fats will give you and your growing baby many of the extra nutrients your bodies need during this extraordinary time.

So why take a prenatal vitamin, too? You can think of prenatal vitamins like an insurance policy to make sure you get the exact vitamins and minerals you and your baby need, in the right amounts. They’ll also supply you with a few nutrients even very healthy diets may not provide. Let’s take a look.

When should I take a prenatal vitamin?

Before you even conceive, your body is preparing for the possibility of a baby. And in the first few weeks of pregnancy, before many women even know they’re expecting, big development starts happening such as in the baby’s neural tube, which becomes the brain and spinal cord. Good nutrition is important to help this process.

Ideally, you’d begin taking a prenatal vitamin in the months before you conceive or as soon as you find out you are pregnant. If you think you might be pregnant but haven’t seen the doctor yet, you can still start taking a prenatal vitamin. Many of the nutrients in prenatal vitamins are good for all adult women.

What’s folic acid and why is it important?

One of the vitamins that’s hard for pregnant women to get enough of through diet alone is folic acid. When taken during pregnancy, this B vitamin may help prevent major birth defects of the baby’s brain and spine, called neural tube defects.

Folic acid can be found in some fortified cereals, enriched breads and pastas, peanuts, dark green leafy vegetables, orange juice and beans. Pregnant women should get 600 micrograms of folic acid a day. Even when eating these foods regularly, a prenatal vitamin with 400 micrograms of folic acid is recommended.

What else should I look for in a prenatal?

Iron is another important nutrient. It helps your body make the extra blood that you and your developing baby will need during pregnancy. Women who are pregnant need 27 milligrams of iron a day, an amount which is found in most prenatal vitamins.

Other vitamins and minerals support the healthy development of your baby’s brain and body and help your body adapt to the changes of pregnancy. Here are some of the vitamins and minerals recommended for pregnant women, according to the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology (ACOG):

  • B vitamins
  • Calcium
  • Choline
  • Folic acid
  • Iodine
  • Iron
  • Omega-3 fatty acids
  • Vitamins A, C and D

How do I choose the right vitamin?

Your healthcare provider might recommend you take a specific prenatal vitamin, or you might choose your own. If you have health concerns, they might recommend you take more or less of a supplement in particular, but this should always be done under their supervision.

Keep in mind, you can have too much of a good thing — some vitamins and minerals can be toxic to you or your baby or cause birth defects if taken in excessive quantities. Try to find one multivitamin to take a day, as opposed to taking many different supplements, since taking only one makes it easier to avoid overdosing on any vitamin or mineral in particular.

If you have questions about particular vitamin brand, you can take your bottle with you to your next prenatal appointment.

How long should I take my prenatal vitamin?

You’ll want to keep taking prenatal vitamins throughout your pregnancy. Some healthcare providers will recommend you continue taking them as long as you are nursing.

Luckily, the side effects for prenatal vitamins are few. Sometimes iron can cause constipation, so drink plenty of fluids, include fiber such as fruits in your diet and exercise as long as your doctor says it’s OK.

Eating a good diet and taking a prenatal vitamin will help you create a healthy and nurturing environment for your baby to grow, and flourish.

To connect with other moms-to-be in San Antonio, ask questions and share advice, visit our Facebook baby bump group.