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Iron to Reduce Preterm Birth Risk

Iron helps your body transport oxygen, prevent anemia, and reduce the risk of preterm and low birth-weight babies. Suggested iron intakes nearly triple during pregnancy to a level that is difficult to satisfy with food alone. Prenatal vitamins usually supply all the iron you need for the day when pregnant -- 27 milligrams (mg) -- and sometimes, more.

Calcium for Bones and Teeth

Calcium is necessary to build baby’s bones and teeth and to maintain the strength of mom’s bones, too. Calcium needs do not increase during pregnancy because the body becomes more efficient at using the mineral. However, many women don’t get the calcium or vitamin D (necessary for calcium absorption) that they need when pregnant. Prenatal supplements usually have more calcium than multivitamins, but no prenatal supplement provides all the calcium you need every day, so eating foods that contain calcium and vitamin D is extra important during pregnancy. Multivitamin supplements may not always contain optimal amounts of vitamin D, so a prenatal supplement can help.

Many prenatal supplements include the omega-3 fat docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). DHA is necessary during pregnancy for brain development and vision. Many fish are excellent DHA sources, but to lower the risk of mercury toxicity, consult your doctor or a dietician about the types of fish that are lowest in mercury content.

Experts recommend 200 mg of DHA daily for pregnant and breastfeeding women, but most adult women average 70 mg or less daily. Talk with your doctor about making sure you're getting enough omega-3 DHA in your diet.

The Benefits and Pitfalls of Prenatal Vitamins

Prenatal vitamins are touted for giving your baby the best start in life -- and with good reason. One analysis of 41 studies suggests a link between taking multivitamins with folic acid before and throughout the first trimester of pregnancy and a reduction in structural birth defects, including those affecting the neural tube, palate and limbs.

Prenatal supplements don’t guarantee a healthy child, but they are useful for filling in small gaps in your diet. For example, women who skip or skimp on animal products benefit from the vitamin B12, iron, zinc, and vitamin D in prenatal supplements.