Now that you’re eating for two, every bite counts, but simply piling your plate with a few more fruits and veggies isn’t going to cut it. “Expectant moms need only an extra 300 calories per day to provide for a healthy pregnancy,” says Marissa Lippert, MS, RD, nutritionist and owner of Nourish Kitchen + Table in New York City. “That’s really only an extra added snack or two throughout the day.”
How can you make sure the bun in your oven gets all the nutrients he needs to grow with just a few extra snacks? The answer is simple: You can’t. Every mama-to-be needs a prenatal vitamin to fill in any nutritional gaps. But there are a lot of ingredients and options to consider—here’s what you need to know about finding the right one-a-day for you.
On the pill
Regardless of your eating habits and exercise routine, every pregnant mama needs the added dose of nutrients that a daily prenatal vitamin offers. “A healthy diet is always important,” says Lippert. “Prenatal vitamins are an added insurance policy and ensure that mom and baby are getting all the nutrients they both require for a healthy pregnancy.”
So even if you’re in the best shape of your life, you’ll still want to find a vitamin to make up for any deficiencies in your diet—because as Christopher E. Bassil, MD, FACOG, an OB/GYN in Atlanta, points out, what constitutes a “healthy diet” can vary from person to person. Instead, Bassil says the food on your plate works together with your vitamin to give baby the healthiest possible start. “Prenatal vitamins are geared toward optimizing health and nutrients in the preconception and perinatal period,” he says. “The analogy I share with my patients is, ‘you can’t build a house without the bricks.’”
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That also means that while your supplement friend packs a nutritional punch, you can’t indulge every potato chip and ice cream craving only to depend on a vitamin to meet your babe-to-be’s developmental needs. Maintaining a healthy diet will not only help your bambino grow, but it can also lessen the impact of pregnancy’s discomforts—nausea and lethargy included.
Although strolling down the fully stocked supplement aisle could easily send any mom-to-be’s brain into a tailspin—so many choices, ingredients you’ve never heard of (niacin, anyone?) and abbreviations you don’t understand—remember, options are a good thing.
“There is a large variety of prenatal vitamins available to the population; much like buying a car, you may need to test drive a few before you find your optimal match,” says Bassil.
With so many selections at your fingertips, from chewable gummies to sippable drinks, you’re bound to find a prenatal suited to your health and lifestyle. You’ll want to make sure your prenatal hits all the recommended daily values for folic acid, calcium, iron, copper, vitamin C, zinc, vitamin B6 and vitamin D.
Every ingredient on the lineup plays a key role in making sure your babe is as healthy as possible. Folic acid is crucial for DNA development during the first trimester and aids in preventing neural tube defects (such as spina bifida), while iron promotes good blood flow through the placenta. Calcium and vitamin D are particularly important during the third trimester, when your little one’s bones are growing at a rapid pace.
But more isn’t always better; even vitamins have their limits. “There are fat- soluble vitamins that in excess can actually be harmful to a developing fetus,” says Bassil. So don’t feel the need to double up if you miss a day—or if your lunch wasn’t as nutritious as it could have been.
Finding the right amount of vitamins and minerals for your body is a delicate process, one you should have your doctor weigh in on. For example, too little iron puts women at risk for going into preterm labor and delivering babies with low birth weights. But too much iron can lead to problems with constipation. Every mother and every pregnancy is unique, so talk to your health care provider about your specific needs.