Prenatal vitamins are an important part of a pre-pregnancy diet. For expectant mothers and women who are planning to conceive, they play a vital role in making mother and baby healthy. However, with so many vitamins and nutrients available, it can be confusing to determine what the most important ones are. The basic and most important prenatal supplements include folic acid, calcium and iron, which all play unique and important roles in fetal development.
Developing babies require calcium to build strong bones and teeth, and to grow nerves, muscles and a healthy heart. Women age 18 and older should aim to get 1,000 milligrams a day before, during and after pregnancy. Not only does calcium play an important role in your baby’s development, but yours, as well.
“Getting enough calcium can help control blood pressure during pregnancy,” says Catherine Bernardini, DO, ob/gyn at Bryn Mawr Hospital. “Milk and cheese are all common foods that contain calcium, but vitamins and calcium supplements are also an option.”
Much like calcium, iron is important not only during pregnancy, but also before and after it. Iron is essential for maintaining a healthy immune system and is responsible for creating hemoglobin, a protein in red blood cells that carries oxygen to other cells.
The reason iron is so important during pregnancy is that your body is creating more blood than usual, which requires more hemoglobin. Extra iron is also needed for your growing baby, especially during the second and third trimesters. Iron deficiency during pregnancy has been associated with low birth weight, premature births and infant mortality.
Vegetables, grains and red meat are all excellent sources of iron, and expectant mothers should aim to get 27 milligrams of iron per day.
Folic acid is a nutrient that is recommended for women who are expecting or who are planning a pregnancy.
“Neural tube defects usually develop within the first month of pregnancy, often before a woman even knows she is pregnant,” says Dr. Bernardini. “Taking folic acid before you become pregnant can help prevent these defects.”
Leafy greens, citrus fruits, beans and cereals are all sources of folic acid, but some women may opt for a multivitamin supplement that contains folic acid, among other vitamins.
Main Line Health can help prepare you for a new arrival. Visit our website to make an appointment with an obstetrician, or to view more information about our maternity services.