You find out you’re pregnant and your mind starts racing with questions:
What do you eat? How much weight should you gain? Can you still exercise?
Information is everywhere, and it can be overwhelming to figure out what’s best for you and your little one. But you know one thing for sure – you need a prenatal vitamin to help make sure you get all the nutrients you need to support a healthy pregnancy.* Each nutrient in your prenatal vitamin plays an integral role in your baby’s growth and development.* In this article, learn about the most important nutrients you need during pregnancy and when you need them.*
Prenatal Vitamins for Early Pregnancy
Some nutrients get to work even before you find out you’re pregnant. So, if you’re thinking about starting a family, it’s important to make sure you’re getting enough of these key nutrients while you’re trying to conceive and during the first trimester.
Your baby’s neural tube forms within the first four weeks of pregnancy. And later, the neural tube develops into the brain and spinal cord. So, neural tube development is an extremely vital process – and folate plays a huge role in making sure everything comes together properly.*
Folate is a B vitamin found in foods like dark leafy greens, beans, peanuts, and whole grains. Many foods are also fortified with folate to help increase folate intake. You’ll find folate added to foods like enriched breads and pastas, and even some ready-to-eat breakfast cereals.
Women of reproductive age need about 400 mcg dietary folate equivalents (DFE) per day, and pregnant women need about 600 mcg DFE daily. So, be sure to look for a prenatal vitamin with folate.
Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin made in your skin in response to sun exposure. But, most people don’t get enough sun exposure to maintain healthy levels of vitamin D, and it’s difficult to get enough from your diet, as few foods are rich in vitamin D.
Still, getting enough vitamin D is important during early pregnancy – and even before you’re pregnant, too. Healthy vitamin D levels help support fertility, as well as a healthy pregnancy.* Taking 50-100 mcg (2,000-4,000 IU) of vitamin D3 per day is a safe and effective way to achieve and maintain healthy vitamin D levels before and during pregnancy.*
Prenatal Vitamins for Mid to Late Pregnancy
As you continue throughout your pregnancy, your nutrient needs change and different nutrients take the spotlight. Read on to learn about the importance of iron, omega-3 fatty acids, and choline during the later stages of your pregnancy.
As your pregnancy progresses, your body produces more blood to help deliver oxygen and nutrients to your baby. Here’s where iron comes in: you need iron to make a protein called hemoglobin, the most important component of red blood cells.*
Meat, beans and lentils, dark leafy green vegetables, and fortified and enriched breads and cereals are all great sources of iron. Women who are pregnant should consume 27 grams of iron per day. Iron supplements can help you meet your iron needs if you struggle to get enough from your diet alone.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) are both omega-3 fatty acids. DHA is a crucial nutrient for brain and eye development in babies throughout pregnancy.* In the second and third trimesters, DHA becomes even more important. Fatty acids are an important part of cell membranes, particularly in the brain and retinas.*
Fatty fish is an excellent source of DHA and EPA. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends that pregnant women eat about 8-12 ounces of low-mercury fish per week, like salmon, mackerel, light tuna, and herring.
If you’re having a hard time stomaching fish during pregnancy, don’t worry. There’s another way to boost your omega-3 intake. Look for a prenatal vitamin that includes DHA. Most of the time, DHA comes in the form of fish oil. But, if you prefer a fish-free alternative, you can also find DHA sourced from algal oil instead.
Choline helps support brain development, provides structure to cell membranes, and helps make neurotransmitters that help send signals between the brain and muscles.* Your body makes choline in the liver, but it is not enough to meet your choline needs, so it’s important to get enough through your diet.
Choline needs increase during pregnancy, and pregnant women should consume at least 450 mg of choline per day. Research suggests that the brain-building power of choline is particularly important during the last trimester of pregnancy, so be sure to include choline-rich foods including eggs, beef, poultry, fish, soybeans, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, and cauliflower, and choose a prenatal vitamin that includes this vital nutrient.*
Prenatal vitamins don’t replace a healthy, balanced diet during pregnancy. Instead, think of them as your safety net – assurance that you’re getting all the nutrients you need to help your little one thrive.
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