Your Prenatal Vitamin Primer
Why, when, and how to choose the right supplement
Before You Conceive
Prenatal vitamins contain important nutrients in stronger dosages than regular multivitamin supplements (even those formulated for women). Just picking up some more ordinary vitamins at the drugstore is not enough for a healthy pregnancy.
It may be called a prenatal vitamin, but think of it as a preconception vitamin too. Start taking prenatal vitamins at least two months before you plan to conceive. Why? Because you want to get your body into the best condition possible to be fertile ground for a baby to grow. Make taking vitamins a part of your preparations, along with dropping bad health habits, getting other medical issues under control, and improving or maintaining your physical fitness.
Taking prenatal vitamins ahead of conception is smart for one other particular reason. A good prenatal vitamin should include folic acid and calcium, among other nutrients that are important to a healthy pregnancy and baby. The March of Dimes reports that birth defects of the spine, skull, and brain, such as spina bifida and anencephaly, are more likely to occur if the mother does not get sufficient folic acid during the first few weeks of her pregnancy—even before she knows she’s pregnant. Research has shown that folic acid can prevent these neural tube defects in developing fetuses by as much as 50 to 70 percent.
The suggested dosage for folic acid for a non-pregnant woman is 400 mcg (or 0.4 mg) and for a pregnant woman it is 800 to 1000 mcg (0.8 to 1.0 mg). Most over-the-counter prenatal vitamins pack at least 400 mcg of this critical B-vitamin punch—many contain as much as 800 mcg. To get more you may need a prescription. Talk with your doctor if you have not considered (or already started) taking a prenatal vitamin. Meanwhile, load up on green leafy vegetables, citrus fruits, and nuts, legumes, and grains, all of which contain folate. Incidentally, folic acid is good for you, too, not just your fetus, so try to get that 400 mcg daily even when you are not trying to conceive.
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