It’s no secret that prenatal vitamins are an important part of an expectant mother’s diet and healthcare regimen. But what’s contained in them—and what’s most important to the development of your growing baby?
The Top 3: Folic Acid, Calcium & Iron
Folic acid, calcium, and iron are, without question, the most vital vitamins and minerals when it comes to the health and well-being of mom and her growing baby.
Folic acid (or folate, when it’s found naturally) is a B-complex vitamin that’s essential to the development of baby’s nervous system. Getting the recommended daily amount of folic acid or folate helps prevent the development of neural tube defects (NTDs), such as spina bifida. It’s crucial that expectant mothers begin taking folic acid as soon as they know they’re pregnant, as nervous system, brain, and spinal cord development begin in the first weeks of pregnancy.
Growing babies need calcium for bone growth just like moms do, which is why supplementing your calcium intake during pregnancy is important. Without added calcium in your diet, you may risk losing bone density—your growing little one will sap what you have in order to ensure its own bone growth doesn’t slow.
It’s practically common knowledge that iron helps in the production of blood cells (or hemoglobin), but what may be less widely understood is that pregnant women need twice as much iron as those who aren’t pregnant. The body needs to produce more blood—for you and for baby—and also needs the added boost iron provides in moving oxygen throughout the bloodstream for your body and your growing baby’s.
Other Important Additions
Aside from the top three nutrients, expectant mothers should look for prenatal vitamins or foods containing the daily recommendations of the following vitamins and minerals:
- Vitamins D & E: Vitamin D2 and D3 in correct levels work to prevent infections and preterm labor. It’s also necessary for the proper absorption of calcium—critical for bone growth. Vitamin E can help ward off pre-eclampsia and low birth weights.
- Vitamin C: Vitamin C is a building block of collagen, which baby needs to grow cartilage, tendons, bones, and skin. It also helps with iron absorption.
- Thiamine (B1): B1 vitamins help with the conversion of carbs into energy—important for both you and your growing baby. There are several other important reasons for more B1 during pregnancy, including brain development.
- Riboflavin (B2): Like B1, B2 helps energy production, but it also contributes to the development of baby’s vision. It may also ward off preeclampsia.
- Niacin (B3): Brain development relies in part on B3, and so does the health and development of mucus membranes. For pregnant women, they may notice some digestive stress relief and reduction in headaches and migraines.
- Vitamin B12: B12 is needed for proper nervous system health and development. One study in the early 2010s suggested that mothers with B12 deficiencies gave birth to babies who cried much more often—a quieter baby may be on the way for moms who take their B12 supplements!
- Zinc: This mineral is vital to cell division taking place in your growing baby. Without zinc, proper cell division and DNA construction simply cannot occur.
- Iodine: Another essential component for the development of baby’s nervous system, iodine is also important to the development of a healthy thyroid.
While the above vitamins and minerals are what’s commonly found in prenatal vitamins, depending on your health and what kind of pregnancy you’re having, your doctor may suggest (or even prescribe) other vitamins and minerals. You may also be encouraged to eat or avoid certain foods.
Take note: Not all vitamins and mineral supplements are the same. What you receive by prescription from your doctor will be different than what you buy over-the-counter. Additionally, not all pre-formulated prenatal vitamins contain the same composition of nutrients. No matter what you decide to take, always consult your physician first to ensure that you’re doing what’s best for you and your growing baby.
Stephan Maldonado is a digital marketer, health & fitness enthusiast, and aspiring novelist. He is currently a freelance writer for SHOP.COM, where he writes about a variety of health-related topics.