It’s common knowledge that vitamins are an important part of prenatal care, but one look at the supplements aisle at your local Whole Foods and it’s easy to feel a bit overwhelmed by all the options. So what vitamins do you actually need, and when do you need to take them?
If you’re planning a pregnancy, start taking a prenatal vitamin before you conceive. This will help get nutrients to the egg as it matures. Think of it kind of like getting your house in order before a guest comes to stay—you want their visit to be as hospitable as possible!
Folic acid: At this point, folic acid is the most important supplement to take as it helps prevent defects—like spina bifida—in the neural tube, which develops into the baby’s brain and spinal cord. Take a folic acid supplement, or a prenatal vitamin that includes 400–600 mg of folic acid daily.
If you haven’t been taking a prenatal vitamin, don’t worry, it’s not too late. Start taking one when you learn you’re pregnant. In addition to folic acid, which is still crucial during the first 12 weeks, there are a handful of other vitamins that you want to be sure you’re getting.
Iron: Iron helps your body make extra blood for the baby, delivers oxygen to you both, and prevents anemia, which can make you feel insanely tired and also cause early delivery. Be sure you’re getting 27 mg per day.
Vitamin D: Our main source of vitamin D is exposure to sunshine, and since most of us use sunscreen daily, most of us are also vitamin D deficient. But because of its importance in supporting calcium absorption, you’ll want to make sure you’re getting at least 600 IUs a day.
DHA: DHA is an omega-3 fatty acid that helps support fetal brain and eye development. Aim for 200mg–300 mg per day.
Calcium: When you’re pregnant, your body is taking calcium from your own teeth and bones to help build your baby’s, so be sure you’re getting 1,000–1,200 mg a day.
Many prenatal vitamins don’t include this much calcium, so you might want to consider taking an added supplement.
After the first trimester, folic acid is no longer a crucial vitamin to take, since your baby’s spine has formed. If you’re taking a separate folic acid supplement, you can stop. If it’s included in your prenatal vitamin, it doesn’t do any harm to continue taking it. The other vitamins and minerals mentioned above should be taken throughout your pregnancy.
Watch Out For
Though vitamin A is important to your baby’s development, ingesting an excess of preformed vitamin A (the kind found in supplements as well as animal products like liver and eggs) can cause birth defects. Pregnant women should keep their intake under 10,000 IUs, which, unless you’re pounding liver pâté shouldn’t be an issue (for comparison, you’d have to eat 40 eggs in a day to hit that max). The type of vitamin A found in fruits and vegetables, known as carotenoids, is A-ok, so feel free to knock back those mangoes and sweet potatoes like they’re going out of style.
When choosing a prenatal vitamin, be sure to source your supplements from a reputable source that is FDA approved, so you know exactly what you’re getting. While supplemental vitamins are helpful, nutritious foods are always going to be the most healthful way to nourish yourself and your growing baby—getting on top of your daily supplements doesn’t give you free rein to eat nothing but garbage day in and day out.
And while the daily allowances mentioned here are average amounts widely recommended by medical professionals and health institutions, it’s always helpful to check with your doctor, to address your specific needs.