Diet and lifestyle play important roles in the health of mother and baby, from preconception through birth. Having a balanced and varied diet is especially important during pregnancy because your baby is getting all the nutrients they need from what you eat.

The mothers need for certain vitamins and minerals increases during pregnancy and play an important role in the growth and development of the baby. Prenatal vitamins are often recommended to ensure the mother is getting enough of these vitamins and decrease the chances of health complications and miscarriage.


Most Important Vitamins for Pregnancy

1. Folic Acid 

One of the most important vitamins in the early days of pregnancy is folic acid. A deficiency in folic acid early in conception can lead to spina bifida, a spinal cord condition than can lead to paralysis. Taking a prenatal vitamin before you know you are pregnant can decrease the chances of this deficiency.

2. Iron 

Involved in bringing oxygen to tissues throughout the body, iron is a vital nutrient for women’s health and fetal development. Many women are at risk of iron deficiency. Iron needs progressively increase throughout pregnancy as the baby’s tissues grow.

Iron is found in meat, fish, legumes, and green leafy vegetables but it is usually a good idea to also supplement with iron. If you are taking a prenatal gummy vitamin there will be no iron in it, so make sure you also supplement with a separate iron vitamin.

3. Iodine 

Playing many roles in the body, iodine is a major component of thyroid hormones and metabolism. It plays a role in growth and development of organs and tissues. The need for iodine increases by 50% during pregnancy. Intake can come from fish and shellfish as well as salt supplemented with iodine. It is also in many prenatal vitamins.

4. Calcium 

During pregnancy your calcium needs go up significantly. The recommended amount increases from 1,000mg to 1,500-2,000mg when pregnant. If you do not get adequate amounts of calcium in your diet your body will take it from the stores in your bones. Decreased calcium in bones can lead to osteoporosis later in life.

5. Vitamin D 

Three in five Filipinos are found to be vitamin D deficient and the amount needed during pregnancy increases. Vitamin D helps your body absorb calcium and helps with the growth of your baby bones and teeth.

The primary source if vitamin D is sunlight. It only takes about 15 minutes for our bodies to absorb vitamin D. Limiting sun exposure, although good to avoid skin cancer or skin damage, can lead to deceased amounts of vitamin D in the blood. Try and get a little sunlight everyday and also talk to your doctor to see if you should take an additional vitamin D supplement.

6. DHA 

DHA is a kind of healthy fat, also known as Omega-3 fatty acid. DHA helps with the baby’s brain and eye development. Foods that are high in DHA include fatty fish like salmon, herring, and anchovies as well as walnuts, chia and flax seeds. Check to see if your prenatal vitamin includes DHA, if it does not ask your doctor about adding a DHA supplement during pregnancy.

Most prenatal supplements are designed with these specific nutrients in mind. Rather than taking these individual vitamin supplements most women choose to simply take one prenatal vitamin. Always talk to your doctor about what is best for you.

It is important to avoid over doing it, taking too much of a certain vitamin or mineral can lead to toxicity and can have negative side effects. Follow the prescribed amount recommended to your to avoid these side effects.


Vitamins and Supplements to Avoid When Pregnant

1. Vitamin A 

Although rare, supplementing Vitamin A can lead to a build up in the body because it is stored in your liver. Unless you are at risk of a vitamin A deficiency you should avoid supplementing to avoid toxicity.

2. Vitamin E 

This is another fat-soluble vitamin that is stored in the body. While it is important for health there are not studies showing benefits to the baby or the mother. Many times you can find lotions and skin creams with vitamin E added which is fine and will not lead to toxicity.

3. Some herbal supplements 

There are certain herbal supplements that can lead to premature labor or other complications. Always talk to your doctor before taking herbal supplements during pregnancy.


When to Start Taking Prenatal Vitamins

It is best to start taking prenatal vitamins when you are planning to try to get pregnant, or if there is a chance you could become pregnant. This is important because you want to make sure you are getting all the nutrients you need right from the start of conception and many times women don’t realize they are pregnant until many weeks into their pregnancy.


This article was written by Amanda Barnes, RDN.