Everybody knows good nutrition is essential during pregnancy, but it’s not always clear exactly what the proper diet consists of. The fact is, it’s almost impossible to get all the prenatal nutrition you and your baby need just by eating the right foods. That’s why it’s important to begin a program of supplemental vitamins as soon as you know you’re pregnant.
In fact, some vitamins, particularly folic acid, are most effective if started before conception. So even if you’re trying to get pregnant or may become pregnant, it’s not too early to know about prenatal supplements.
Three especially important supplements are folic acid, DHA and iron.
Folic Acid during Pregnancy
Folic acid, one of the B vitamins, is important in the prevention of neural tube defects. These defects prevent proper development of the spinal cord and the brain. These rare but tragic defects tend to develop in the first month of pregnancy.
Ideally you should start on a daily dose of 400 mcg a month before conception and continue through at least the first 12 weeks. If you’re previously had a pregnancy affected by neural tube defects you may need more. If you think you may become pregnant talk to your health care provider about when to start folic acid and how much to take.
Folic acid can be found in nuts, citrus, beans and green leafy vegetables. There are also foods fortified with folic acid. However, you still should use supplements to ensure you get enough.
DHA during Pregnancy
Docosahexaenoic acid, or DHA, is an omega-3 fatty acid. These acids, abundant in fish and shellfish, are vital to fetal development of the brain, nervous system and eyes. The importance of DHA doesn’t stop at birth. Because omega-3 is needed for the newborn’s immune system and continued brain development, DHA is important for nursing mothers. There are studies that verify a connection between omega-3 and cognitive and visual development.
DHA is healthy for mom as well as baby because it boosts mood and contributes to postpartum well-being.
Our bodies can’t produce omega-3, and most Americans don’t get enough. We have lower omega-3 consumption than any other developed country. As a result, most mothers are deficient in DHA going into pregnancy. What DHA you do have becomes depleted as the placenta supplies it to the fetus. The shortfall of DHA continues up to a year after pregnancy, and if it isn’t addressed, it gets worse with multiple pregnancies.
Omega-3 fatty acids are plentiful in fish, especially tuna, sardines, anchovies and salmon. However, many women are concerned with potential toxins in fish and their impact on the fetus and choose to limit fish consumption.
A recommended daily dose of DHA is at least 200-300 mg, and depending on individual circumstances, your doctor may recommend more.
Iron during Pregnancy
Iron boosts the hemoglobin in your blood. Hemoglobin is the protein that carries oxygen from your lungs both to your own body and that of your baby. It’s critical in helping you breathe for two. When you’re pregnant you need more hemoglobin, so you need about twice the iron you did before.
Iron deficiency can cause anemia which in turn can lead to premature or underweight birth. The need for additional iron continues through breastfeeding.
The recommended iron supplements during pregnancy is around 30 mg a day, and continues at about 10 mg daily while nursing. Some of your iron can come from meat and from beans, tofu and spinach, but it’s almost impossible to get enough without supplements.
Consult your health care provider for any questions you have about prenatal vitamins. Some women experience nausea or constipation from supplements, and your doctor may be able to alleviate this by prescribing a different combination or a chewable or liquid instead of a pill you swallow. Always keep track of what you’re taking and keep your doctor informed.
Dr. Kristine Eule is now accepting new patients at Denver Tech Center OBGYN. Please call 303-770-0665 to schedule an appointment.