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Prenatal vitamins: what to look for

Every mom-to-be wants to make sure that both she and her baby are as healthy as possible, and one of the best ways to ensure that is by following proper, pregnancy-specific nutrition guidelines. Even those women who eat a tremendously well-balanced diet need some supplementation of vitamins and minerals, however, so all pregnant moms are strongly encouraged to take a daily prenatal vitamin that contains a variety of helpful and healthy nutrients. Women should try to find a prenatal that includes all of the following.

Folic acid

This is the synthetic form of folate, which is found naturally in foods like beans, nuts, and spinach. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommends that all pregnant women get 600 micrograms (mcg) of folic acid each day. But because it can be hard to get that much folic acid just from food alone, ACOG also recommends that pregnant women take a daily prenatal vitamin with at least 400 mcg of folic acid (4 mg for those who are high-risk for neural tube problems), which helps cell and neural tube development. Most prenatal vitamins, however, may have closer to 800 mcg.

Iron

ACOG recommends that pregnant women get 27 mg of iron a day in their prenatal vitamin, to help with blood development and oxygen transport. Iron can sometimes lead to constipation, which can be treated with over-the-counter stool softeners. Women with iron-deficiency anemia may need additional iron, so talk to your health provider if you are concerned.

Calcium

The Mayo Clinic suggests that a prenatal vitamin contain at least 250 mg of calcium to help a fetus develop bones, and prevent you from developing osteoporosis. Women ages 19-50 years old should aim to consume 1000mg of calcium each day through foods like dairy, leafy green vegetables, and some fish. 

Vitamin D

ACOG recommends that pregnant women get between 200-400 IUs (international units) of Vitamin D in their prenatal, as it helps with healthy bone growth. All women should aim for at least 600 IU of vitamin D per day, and possibly more if you do not get much exposure to sunlight.

Vitamin B6

The Mayo Clinic advises that a prenatal vitamin should contain at least 2 mg of Vitamin B6. Vitamin B6 is sometimes also prescribed to help combat pregnancy nausea.

Vitamin C

Though often overlooked in the pregnancy nutrient world, ACOG advises pregnant women to get at least 80 mg of Vitamin C in their prenatal vitamin to help build a developing baby’s bones and muscles, and keep the mother’s immune system running strong.

DHA

Although many prenatal vitamins don’t contain docosahexaenoic acid (DHA, an Omega-3 fatty acid), DHA can be incredibly important for nervous system development, so most healthcare providers would recommend taking a prenatal that includes DHA, most of which contain about 200 mg.

You should talk to your provider about any other supplementation you’re considering, and should also avoid additional Vitamin A supplements as an excess is proven to be dangerous.

Learn more about prenatal vitamins


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Sources
  • AK Sfakianaki. “Prenatal vitamins: A review of the literature on benefits and risks of various nutrient supplements.” Formulary Journal. ModernMedicine Network, January 31 2013. Retrieved July 1 2020.https://www.formularywatch.com/view/prenatal-vitamins-review-literature-benefits-and-risks-various-nutrient-supplements.
  • Mayo Clinic Staff. “Prenatal vitamins: Why they matter, how to choose.” Mayo Clinic. Mayo Clinic, May 1 2020. Retrieved July 1 2020. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/pregnancy-week-by-week/in-depth/prenatal-vitamins/art-20046945.
  • “Nutrition During Pregnancy: FAQ001.” The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, June 2020. Retrieved July 1 2020. https://www.acog.org/patient-resources/faqs/pregnancy/nutrition-during-pregnancy.

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