The Lowdown on Prenatal Vitamins
Below is a rundown of the optimal daily amounts of key nutrients that we recommend to support a healthy pregnancy and grow a healthy baby. Of course, taking prenatal vitamins doesn't give you a free pass to eat "whatever" for 40 weeks straight. Make your best effort to eat healthfully. Try these tasty recipes.
Vitamin A aids in both cell development and brain growth, but this vitamin does have a drawback. There have been links between excessive amounts of vitamin A and an increased risk of birth defects, especially neural tube defects. (Be careful not to eat too many protein, breakfast or meal-replacement bars, each of which may have 100 percent of your daily value of vitamin A. Get into the habit of checking the FDA nutrition labels on everything you eat.)
Aim for this amount: Consume no more than 15,000 international units (IU) a day while pregnant or just before becoming pregnant.
Low levels of B6 are associated with a delay in the development of the baby's nervous system. Plus, inadequate amounts are also linked to problems for mom, such as morning sickness, preeclampsia and complications during delivery.
Aim for this amount: 3 milligrams (mg) twice a day.
Getting adequate amounts of this all-important prenatal nutrient—also known as folate—reduces the risk of specific birth defects, like spina bifida (an incomplete spinal cord). It also reduces your infant's cancer risk for the first 6 years of life.
Aim for this amount: At least 400 micrograms (mcg) from supplements, such as a prenatal folic acid vitamin pill, and a total of at least 800 mcg, including the amounts from food.
A full-term baby accumulates 30 grams of calcium in bone mass, so a mom needs to make sure to get adequate amounts to maintain her own bone strength and get those necessary bone builders to the baby.
Aim for this amount: We recommend taking 600 mg of calcium citrate supplements twice a day, plus 200 mg of magnesium twice a day. Calcium without magnesium leads to constipation, so choose your combo carefully. Also, try to eat three or four servings of calcium-rich foods every day.
Because a mom transfers about 1,000 milligrams (mg) of iron to a growing baby and increases her total number of red blood cells by 20 to 30 percent, it's important to get adequate iron during pregnancy.
Aim for this amount: 20 mg twice a day.
The omega-3 fatty acid DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) is a major structural component in both your child's brain and your own. Fetuses are pretty assertive when it comes to taking omega-3 fatty acids for brain development, so you'll be depleted of those important neuron protectors unless you make a point of getting them through diet or supplements. DHA seems to help repair your brain cells or connections damaged by stress.
Aim for this amount: A minimum of 200 to 300 mg of DHA per day from fish, fortified foods or supplements is what we recommend for moms-to-be. Recent research indicates that 600 to 900 mg may be even better. More and more prenatal vitamins are including this important nutrient, but double-check to see if your vitamin does. If it doesn't, ask your doc whether you should take DHA supplements.
Low levels of zinc have been shown to be related to increased birth defects, low birth weight, miscarriage and even behavior problems down the road.
Aim for this amount: 10 mg twice a day.
Other nutrients moms-to-be need
- B1 (also called thiamin)—25 mg
- B2 (also called riboflavin)—25 mg
- B3 (also called niacin)—At least 30 mg
- B5 (also called pantothenic acid)—At least 30 mg
- B12—400 mcg twice a day
- Biotin —300 mcg
- C—400 mg twice a day (remember, it's water soluble, so you need two doses over the day)
- D—600 IU twice a day
- E—200 IU twice a day (or, preferably, 400 IU of mixed tocopherols)
- Magnesium—200 mg three times a day; twice a day prior to pregnancy
- Selenium—100 mcg twice a day
Do you have more questions about pregnancy health? Get even more answers from RealAge's YOU: Having a Baby Center.