One of the very first pieces of advice you’re sure to hear once you get that positive pregnancy test (or well before, if you’ve been planning to conceive) is to start popping those prenatals. And there’s a good reason for that: Multivitamins specially formulated for pregnancy are chock-full of the nutrients you need to help build a healthy baby.
But just what’s inside those giant, often gag-inducing pills? Here’s a breakdown of a typical prenatal vitamin and the superpower each component provides your hard-working, person-growing, awe-inducing pregnant body.
This one is a biggie. Folic acid (the synthetic form of the naturally occurring folate) has been determined to be important enough for a baby’s neural tube development (the precursor to a baby’s brain and spinal cord) that in 1996, the FDA published regulations requiring that it be added to enriched breads, pastas, cereals and other grain products. That’s pretty drastic government action, and science backed the decision: Neural tube defects dropped 25 percent after the addition of folic acid to publicly purchased grains. Improper development of the neural tube can result in a myriad of birth defects, including spina bifida and anencephaly.
Recommended daily dose: 800-1,000 micrograms (mcg)
While important at every stage of pregnancy, calcium supplementation is most crucial in the third trimester, when fetal skeletal growth is most rapid. Calcium is drawn directly from the mother’s stores, so you’ll need a surplus available to help your baby grow those strong bones. An adequate supply of calcium can decrease the risk of preeclampsia by keeping blood pressure low, which in turn decreases your chance of a premature birth.
Recommended daily dose: 1,000-1,300 milligrams (mg)
Iron is responsible for making hemoglobin, the protein in red blood cells that carries oxygen to all the other cells in your body. During pregnancy, your body produces up to 50 percent more blood than usual, meaning that iron is in high demand. Low iron in the blood can cause anemia in you during pregnancy, and in your baby after birth. Anemia increases your risk for preterm delivery and low birth weight, and some studies show it may even increase the risk of postpartum depression.
Recommended daily dose: 30 mg
These key prenatal ingredients play an important role in cell metabolism. In other words, they’re important for creating the energy your baby needs in order to grow. Here is a list of the B vitamins you’re likely to find in your prenatals, how they contribute to your gestational health, and the daily recommended dose.
- B1 (thiamine): aids in the development of the nervous system; goodfor digestion, muscles and heart(1.5 mg)
- B2 (riboflavin): important for skin, hair, nails and eyesight (1.6 mg)
- B3 (niacin): provides energy; helps build the placenta; aids digestion(18 mg)
- B6 (pyridoxine): promotes a healthy fetal immune system; quells nausea(2 mg)
- B12: boosts red blood cells; helpsin tissue repair (2.6 mcg)
Maintaining adequate levels of vitamin C has a twofold purpose: It supports strong bones and teeth, and it also supports the absorption of iron, one of the most crucial minerals for a pregnant body. Low vitamin C can lead to preeclampsia, anemia and low birth weight.
Recommended daily dose: 80 mg (not to exceed 2,000 mg)
Vitamin D helps maintain a proper level of calcium and phosphorus—the necessary ingredients for growing your baby’s bones and teeth. Low stores of vitamin D can increase the risk of poor bone formation, rickets and delayed physical development.
Recommended daily dose: 600 international units (IU)
Zinc aids in the repair, function and production of DNA—the most basic building block of all. Zinc can also promote the healing of wounds and is key in helping maintain your sense of taste and smell. If your zinc reserves run empty, you can be at risk of miscarriage, low birth weight and toxemia.
Recommended daily dose: 12 mg