Get The Nutrients Your Diet May Lack

Though it won't replace healthy eating, a supplement is essential. Here's expert advice to help you choose a good one. 

Woman reading vitamin labelHow early in my pregnancy should I begin taking a prenatal vitamin?

Start three months before you begin trying to get pregnant, if possible. "The egg starts maturing about three months before it's released, and it's critical that the proper nutrients are present during the earliest stages," says OB-GYN Robert Greene, M.D., medical director of the Sher Institute for Reproductive Medicine in Sacramento, Calif. "Neural-tube defects [such as spina bifida] happen in the first four to six weeks of pregnancy," says Sudeep Kukreja, M.D., associate director of the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at CHOC Children's in Orange, Calif.

If you think you're pregnant and are not taking a supplement, don't wait until your first appointment for a prescription because you will have missed this critical developmental period. Start taking an over-the-counter folic acid supplement with 600 micrograms (mcg) right away.

The Facts On Folate: Why this vitamin is so important to your baby's health.

What are the most important vitamins and minerals and why?

"The three most important nutrients, based on very good research, are folic acid, iron and calcium," says Kukreja. Folic acid helps prevent neural-tube defects, iron is important for the delivery of oxygen to the baby and prevents anemia in the mom and calcium helps build your baby's bones and prevents bone loss in the mother.
Top Pregnancy Nutrient - Folate: Getting enough of this B vitamin is more crucial than ever in preventing birth defects and prematurity. Find out what you need to know, plus which foods are packed with folate.

Are all varieties of prenatal vitamins pretty much the same?

No. Prescription vitamins are regulated by the Food and Drug Administration, but they are not required to contain certain nutrients. "There are many different formulations available, with different concentrations of each nutrient," says Kukreja. Some have a little of everything, while others contain only a handful of nutrients. If you have special health considerations, your OB may suggest a supplement with added nutrients to meet your needs.

Prenatal Vitamins Made Easy: When to start and what the important vitamins and minerals are.

Important nutrients for pregnant women

Calcium 1,000 mg
DHA 200 mg
Folic acid 600 mcg
Iodine 220 mcg
Iron 27 mg
Vitamin B6 1.9 mg
Vitamin B12 2.6 mcg
Vitamin C 80 mg
Vitamin D 200 IU
Vitamin E 15 mg
Zinc 11 mg

More on how to get these nutrients

What You Eat = Your Baby's Future: Good or bad, prenatal nutrition affects your baby well into adulthood
10 (surprising!) Prenatal Power Foods: Foods that provide the nutrition and vitamins you need for a healthy pregnancy
Nutrition Addition: Which foods provide the most benefits?

>> Laurie Tarkan frequently covers health topics for The New York Times. She lives in Maplewood, New Jersey.

Tags: prenatal care

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