Before you decorate the nursery, pick out a name, or test drive strollers, one item should rise to the top of your to-do list: Take a daily prenatal vitamin.
“Ideally, you’d start taking it before you become pregnant to tune up your body with certain vitamins and minerals that you and your baby need to have a healthy pregnancy,” says Ashlesha Dayal, MD, an associate professor of obstetrics & gynecology and women’s health at Albert Einstein College of Medicine/Montefiore Medical Center.
Since half of pregnancies are unplanned, regular prenatal vitamins ensure that you get those nutrients even before you find out that you’re expecting.
If you already know you’re pregnant, the sooner you start to take a prenatal vitamin, the better. Even if you eat right, they’re still a good idea.
“There are a couple of vitamins and minerals that pregnant women need more of than you can usually obtain from a healthy diet alone,” Dayal says.
In particular, you need these 4 nutrients.
1. Folic Acid
How much you need: 600 micrograms daily. The minimal supplementation recommendation is 400 mcg in a vitamin/supplement. The rest women can get from their diet.
Why you need it: Folate helps your baby’s brain and nervous system develop, which happens early in your pregnancy. And it prevents some birth defects. (Folate occurs naturally in food. Folic acid is the supplemental form)
You can also find it in: Dark green leafy vegetables, nuts, beans, peas, and foods fortified with folic acid such as bread, cereal, flour, pasta, and rice. But take the vitamin just in case.
How much you need: 27 milligrams daily
Why you need it: Iron helps your body keep up with the increase in blood that happens when you’re pregnant.
You can also find it in: White beans, lentils, spinach, beef, cashews, chicken, and iron-fortified foods such as bread and cereal.
How much you need: 1,000 milligrams daily
Why you need it: Calcium is crucial to help your baby’s bones develop. Your baby will draw calcium from your own bones if don’t get enough. This can you put you at risk for bone loss and breaks.
You can also find it in: Milk, yogurt, cheese, and calcium-fortified foods such as tofu and cereal.