Getting the right nutrients during pregnancy is important for two reasons. First, these prenatal vitamins and minerals nourish your body and keep you healthy through all three trimesters and as you recover postpartum. Second, they are delivered directly to your baby, helping him or her grow and develop.
Vitamin A, also called retinol or beta-carotene, helps bones and teeth grow. It also helps your baby develop proper vision and a healthy immune system.
In some parts of the world, vitamin A deficiency is a serious problem in pregnant women; however, in developed countries, women are more often at risk for vitamin A overdose, which can cause birth defects. If you eat plenty of colorful vegetables, milk, or eggs, you likely get all the vitamin A you need, and you shouldn’t take it in supplements without a doctor’s instruction.
Vitamin B1, also known as thiamin, raises your energy levels while you are pregnant and helps your baby’s nervous system develop. If you are deficient in vitamin B1 during pregnancy, you may develop an inflammation of the nerves known as neuritis. If you don’t eat meat, you can get B1 from whole grains, rice, nuts, and beans.
Also called niacin, B3 is another vitamin that builds your baby’s nervous system. It also helps promote healthy digestion, which makes it critical during pregnancy as your gastrointestinal system slows down. Most high-protein foods are excellent sources of B3, including meats, milk, beans, nuts, and eggs. Many cereals and pastas are also fortified with extra B vitamins.
Vitamin B6, or pyridoxine, is a building block of red blood cells, making it important during pregnancy as your blood volume increases. B6 also decreases morning sickness; a deficiency may be part of the reason you feel so queasy during your first trimester. Luckily, it is added to many prenatal vitamins; you can also find it in chicken, fish, eggs, cantaloupe, walnuts, bananas, beans, and broccoli.
Vitamin C helps you fight off infection during pregnancy, as well as to build your baby’s immune system. It is added in large quantities to most prenatal vitamins, but you can get plenty of vitamin C from a diet full of colorful fruits and vegetables.
Vitamin D deficiency in pregnant mothers has been linked to improper bone growth, fractures, and rickets in new babies, so it is important to make sure you are getting enough in all three trimesters.
Many juices and milks are fortified with vitamin D; it is also found in fatty fish, egg yolks, and mushrooms. If you are at risk of vitamin D deficiency, your obstetrician may also recommend supplements to keep you and your baby healthy.
Vitamin E supports both your and your baby’s immune system. It also helps your body form red blood cells and contributes to muscular development.
Though vitamin E deficiency can lead to dangerous conditions like preeclampsia, most healthy adults get enough from foods like leafy greens, nuts, asparagus, and avocado. Since too much vitamin E has been linked to low birth weight, you shouldn’t take supplements unless your doctor recommends them.
Folate, or folic acid, is a B vitamin and one of the most important nutrients during pregnancy. It supports the placenta, as well as helping to grow healthy cells and neurons in both you and your baby. Folate deficiency can lead to birth defects such as spina bifida.
When you are pregnant or trying to conceive, you need about 400 micrograms of folate a day. Folic acid is found in oranges, strawberries, green leafy vegetables, and beans. It is also added to nearly all prenatal vitamins.
Calcium helps your baby’s bones and teeth form, as well as supporting muscle and nerve development. You can get dietary calcium from dairy, fortified juices or cereals, and leafy green vegetables. However, many women are calcium-deficient before pregnancy, putting them at risk for fractures in later trimesters or during labor. If this is the case, your obstetrician may recommend a calcium supplement.
Iron helps both you and your baby produce red blood cells, as well as preventing dangerous conditions like anemia, preterm labor, and low birth weight. Because your body uses so much extra iron during pregnancy, many women are iron-deficient by their third trimester. As a result, many doctors will recommend an iron supplement, as well as plenty of iron-rich foods like dried beans, dried fruits, spinach, beef, and pork.
Know that prenatal vitamins are a complement to a healthy diet, not a substitute for good nutrition. Prenatal vitamins won't necessarily meet 100 percent of your vitamin and mineral needs.
The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology offers general guidelines about which vitamins and minerals pregnant women need. However, your specific nutritional needs may vary based on your overall health, your pregnancy history, and your diet. Always talk to your doctor before taking supplements or changing your diet, especially during pregnancy.
July 12, 2016
Janet O’Dell, RN