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Pregnant? Here's why you should take your prenatal vitamins

Hey, mom-to-be. Did you take your prenatal vitamin today? 

When you're having a baby, taking a prenatal vitamin needs to be as automatic as setting your alarm at night or brushing your teeth in the morning. But just what are prenatals? And why is popping one the thing to do now that you're pregnant? 

So good for baby and you

Unlike other multivitamins, prenatals are designed just for pregnant women. They help you get the extra nutrients you and your baby need. Because your baby depends on you for nourishment, you'll need more of some vitamins and minerals than you did before you were pregnant. 

Of course, you can get a lot of these nutrients from eating healthy foods—and eating right is important. But taking a prenatal helps ensure that you get enough of those essential nutrients.

What nutrients do you need during pregnancy?

Not all prenatals contain the same vitamins and minerals. And some women may need more of certain nutrients than others do. So it's best to ask your provider to recommend a prenatal that contains the nutrients you need. Some are extra important for expectant moms, including:

Folic acid. This B vitamin helps your baby grow and develop. It also helps prevent birth defects of the brain and spine known as neural tube defects. Some experts recommend that women get at least 400 micrograms of folic acid a day during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, and then 600 micrograms a day until baby is born.  

Iron. It helps your body make hemoglobin, a protein in your blood that helps carry oxygen to your baby. Your baby uses iron to make blood too. So right now you need about twice as much iron—27 milligrams—as you did before you were pregnant. 

If you don't get enough iron, you could feel tired too often, have anemia or (worse) have a premature or low-birth-weight baby. 

Calcium. This mineral helps your baby's bones, teeth, heart, muscles and nerves develop. You need about 1,000 milligrams of calcium a day. If you don't get enough, your body could steal it from your bones to give it to baby. This could cause your bones to weaken when you get older.

Vitamin D. You need 600 IU (international units) of vitamin D a day. The proper dose helps your body's nerves, muscles and immune system work better. But it also helps you absorb calcium.

When to take prenatal vitamins

Moms-to-be should take a prenatal vitamin every day. Try to settle on one time of day to make it easier for you to get in a routine.

But did you know that women should start taking folic acid before they conceive? The reason: Folic acid helps prevent birth defects that can occur before a woman even knows she's pregnant. That's also why experts recommend that all women who could get pregnant take at least 400 micrograms of folic acid every day. 

Want more pregnancy advice?

Remembering to take your prenatal vitamin is important, but some medicines might not be good for baby. Learn what to watch out for in your medicine cabinet

Sources: American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists; March of Dimes

Reviewed 12/13/2023

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