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The Benefits of Taking Prenatal Vitamins Early

Once you start trying, you can't know exactly when you'll get pregnant. For this reason, it's a good idea to get a head start on taking prenatal vitamins, Joel Bernstien, MD, says in the WebMD Trying to Conceive Community.

Some people believe they get all the vitamins and minerals they need by maintaining a healthy diet. But many of us don't, Bernstien says. And if you wait for a positive pregnancy test to rev up on healthy nutrients, you may miss the window of time when they would have been the most important.

Here are three blockbuster components of prenatal vitamins that help start you and your developing baby on the right track:

  • Folic acid. The work of folic acid begins even before you know you're pregnant.  Although you only need at least 400 mcg of folic acid, most prenatal vitamins contain 800 to 1000 mcg. This is because folic acid helps prevent defects in a fetus' neural tube, which is what develops into the spinal cord and brain within four weeks of conception. Folic acid also helps your baby grow at a healthy rate during the rest of your pregnancy, Bernstien says. And research shows that preterm delivery is half as likely for women who take folic acid for at least a year before getting pregnant.
  • Iron. Carrying a baby boosts your need for blood cells that transport oxygen. Prenatal vitamins contain the right amount of iron to prevent most women from becoming anemic during pregnancy -- which also lowers your risk of giving birth to a preterm or underweight baby.
  • Calcium and Vitamin D. Many women don't get enough of either in their diets. Beefing up your calcium and vitamin D by starting early on prenatal vitamins provides double benefits, Bernstien says. It helps your baby develop strong bones, and can help boost your bone health, too.

Are you taking prenatal vitamins as part of your preparation for conception? What other ways are you preparing yourself while you're trying?

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Hyacinth Nicole Browne, MD, is a board certified OB/GYN and Assoc. Medical Director at Sher Institute for Reproductive Medicine in Westchester, NY... More

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