We need lots of vitamins and minerals to stay healthy—and as a mommy-to-be, you need even more since you’ll be sharing nutrients with your budding baby. While a healthy, well-rounded diet can fulfill many of the requirements for baby-growing, the best way to ensure you’re getting enough of the good stuff is to take a prenatal vitamin.
Sounds simple enough, right? Well, before you rely on the “eeny-meeny-miny- moe” method to choose your daily supplement, you should take a closer look at all your options. Since what goes into prenatal vitamins is not controlled by the FDA, there isn’t a standard recipe for the ideal prenatal pill. (This means some vitamins are loaded with calcium or have a pinch of Vitamin A, while others have none at all.) To make sure you and your baby get the right amount of all the necessary nutrients, it’s important to talk to your doctor about your diet and lifestyle, so that together you can find the perfect prescription or over-the-counter daily supplement.
While this may sound overwhelming, the core ingredients of any prenatal vitamin should be close to the same. If you find yourself lacking in certain areas, you can always take an additional supplement or adjust your diet to increase any potentially deficient components.
Here are the key nutrients to look for in a prenatal vitamin, along with the recommended daily dosage during pregnancy.
Folic acid (800 micrograms): This nutrient aids in your baby’s DNA and cell formation and also helps with neurological development. It is one of the most important nutrients for your baby’s growth and just so happens to be one of the most difficult to absorb from food alone. A lack of folic acid can lead to neural tube defects and low birth weight, and the only way you’re going to get enough of it is to take a supplement—so make sure you do!
Dietary boosters: orange juice, pinto beans, leafy greens and asparagus
Iron (27 milligrams): Because your body is producing extra blood to support your growing baby, you’ll need twice as much iron while expecting as you did before. It will help prevent anemia during your pregnancy and generate more red blood cells for your fetus. While it’s important to get enough iron, too much can be equally problematic. If you experience nausea, constipation or diarrhea after taking your pill, talk to your doctor about decreasing your iron intake.
Dietary boosters: chickpeas, tofu and lean red meat
Calcium (1,000 milligrams): Ample calcium intake is important in anyone’s diet—expecting or not—as it’s an essential player in staving off osteoporosis. But when you’re carrying a baby, consuming plenty of calcium becomes doubly important, since baby will absorb what he needs for proper development from your own stores. Getting enough calcium will help you sail smoothly through your pregnancy,avoiding complications like preeclampsia and preterm delivery. (It also helps prevent those pesky leg cramps.) Since it’s such a chunky mineral, many vitamin makers opt not to cram it into their already larger-than-life pills, so you may have to double up on your dairy intake or find an additional supplement.
Dietary boosters: yogurt, cheese and milk
Zinc (15 milligrams): Not only is zinc a great boost to your own immune system, it supports the normal growth and development of your baby as well. Zinc is a mineral containing over 300 enzymes that aid in fertility, growth, cell reproduction, immune function and vision, so getting enough is crucial for both you and your wee one.
Dietary boosters: meat and pumpkin seeds
Vitamin A or beta-carotene (800 micrograms): Because too much vitamin A can lead to birth defects, choose a prenatal multivitamin with less than 10,000 IU. To make life easier, most vitamins now contain the much safer, non-toxic alternative beta-carotene, a plant-derived nutrient that your body naturally converts into vitamin A. It helps develop your baby’s soft skin, sparkling eyes and immune system.
Dietary boosters: carrots, sweet potatoes and spinach
Vitamin C (70 milligrams): This vitamin helps build your baby’s strong bones and teeth, and also creates healthy connective tissue. The antioxidant promotes healing and supports your body’s absorption of iron too.
Dietary boosters: papaya, broccoli and oranges
Vitamin K (65 milligrams): The primary function of this vitamin is to prevent blood clotting, an important precaution for both mom and baby. It is also key in building your baby’s bone density and developing his liver.
Dietary boosters: broccoli, cabbage and okra
B1, Thiamin (1.4 milligrams): Healthy nerves and brain cells stem from B1. Plus, this vitamin helps your body process carbohydrates, fats and proteins, which in turn give you energy to support your body and your baby’s.
Dietary boosters: sunflower seeds, black beans and peas
B2, Riboflavin (1.4 milligrams): In addition to helping grow more red blood cells, this vitamin keeps your metabolism high so you have enough energy to carry your rapidly growing little one.
Dietary boosters: low-fat yogurt, soybeans and milk
B3, Niacin (17 milligrams): When it comes to babies, size definitely matters! That’s why B3 is important. It helps your baby grow on schedule, so when he arrives, his weight, length and head circumference will be just right.
Dietary boosters: chicken breast, wheat bran and dried fruit
B6 (2.0 milligrams): This vitamin is integral to your infant’s growth, particularly during the first trimester. It helps process amino acids—the building blocks for proteins and hormones and the key to developing a healthy brain and nervous system. An added bonus: B6 is known for boosting mama’s immunities and providing relief for nausea and morning sickness.
Dietary boosters: bananas, bell peppers and turkey breast
B12 (2.4 micrograms): Not getting enough B12 can lead to anemia for mom, but when taken appropriately it promotes normal nerve and red blood cell functions in your baby.
Dietary boosters: eggs, beef and milk
Magnesium (340 milligrams): Healthy bones are derived from magnesium, so it’s especially needed during pregnancy, when your bones are sacrificing nutrients to baby to help his bone structure properly develop. It also helps maintain normal blood pressure and relieves several common pregnancy complaints, such as leg cramps, headaches and general muscle discomfort.
Dietary boosters: artichoke, almonds and brown rice
The right mix
All of these nutrients are beneficial to your baby’s growth and offer some stellar side effects for mom, but keep in mind that there can be too much of a good thing. While vitamin A is the only nutrient that can be toxic in large amounts, your body (and your baby’s) just doesn’t need excess in other areas. Too much of any one thing does more harm than good, so don’t overdo your vitamin intake. Finding the right combination of vitamins and minerals and taking a healthy daily dose throughout the entirety of your pregnancy will help lead to a healthy mama and healthy baby on delivery day.