Pregnancy and Daily Prenatal Vitamin Use


The need for certain vitamins and minerals increases significantly in pregnant and breast feeding women. A healthy diet is critical, but it may not provide enough of some nutrients. Prenatal vitamins are specially formulated to provide essential vitamins and minerals to pregnant and breast feeding women and their developing babies. One prenatal vitamin is taken daily. Common ingredients in prenatal vitamins are listed

  • Folic acid helps cells develop and prevents spinal cord and brain defects. It can be found in foods such as fortified breads and cereals, citrus fruits and green leafy vegetables. Women trying to become pregnant need at least 400 mcg of folic acid daily, and women who are pregnant need at least 600 mcg daily.
  • Calcium strengthens the bones of both the mother and baby. It also helps the circulatory, muscular and nervous systems run normally. It can be found in dairy products, salmon, spinach and fortified juices. The recommended daily intake is 1,000 mg.
  • Iron helps the blood carry oxygen to tissues and helps the muscle cells develop. Poultry, fish, lean red meat, spinach, nuts and dried fruit are all good sources of iron. Pregnant women need at least 27mg of iron daily.
  • Omega-3 fatty acids are important for brain development. Fish is an excellent source of fatty acids, but certain types contain high levels of mercury that can harm your baby. Avoid shark, swordfish, king mackerel and tilefish during pregnancy. Some fish that are generally low in mercury include shrimp, canned tuna (not albacore) and salmon. You can safely eat up to 12 ounces of these types of fish per week. Check local advisories about fish in your area. Omega-3 fatty acids are not usually found in standard prenatal vitamins, so your physician may recommend additional supplements if necessary. Pregnant women need 200 mg of DHA (one form of omega-3 fatty acid) daily.
  • Vitamin D is important for calcium absorption, especially in the third trimester when calcium demands increase. It can be found in fortified milk and other foods. The vitamin D found in prenatal vitamins is usually not optimal, so your physician may recommend an additional supplement. Experts recommend 200 to 400 units daily.
  • Several other vitamins and minerals necessary for skin development, bone formation, eyesight, nervous system development, blood formation and energy metabolism are also included in prenatal vitamins. These generally include vitamins A, B6, B12, C, thiamine, riboflavin, magnesium and zinc.

Prenatal vitamins may vary slightly in what they contain. Some excellent prenatal vitamins are available over-the-counter at a relatively low cost. In some cases a prenatal vitamin may produce nausea. If this occurs, consider taking the vitamin with a meal. If nausea persists, switch to a different prenatal vitamin until you find one that you tolerate.

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