If you're a pregnant woman, ideally you should receive your nutrition by eating a healthful, well-balanced diet that includes carbohydrates, healthy fats, proteins, vitamins and minerals. Folic acid is especially important in early pregnancy. However, the American Pregnancy Association cites the American Congress of Obstetricians as saying that prenatal vitamins are an effective way of supplementing your diet. The Association also warns that you should get a doctor's recommendation before you start any prenatal vitamin regimen, just as with any medications you might contemplate taking.
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Vitamins to Take
Check the labels of any prenatal vitamin supplement you plan to take to ensure that it has at least 400-800 micrograms of folic acid, 250 milligrams of calcium, 340 mg of iron, 15 mg of zinc, 2 mg of copper, and 400 IU (international units) of Vitamin D, according to the Mayo Clinic website. Folic acid helps to keep the placenta healthy and prevents spina bifida, along with other neural tube disorders. Zinc helps produce insulin, which plays a key role in removing glucose from the blood. Iron helps protect hemoglobin and can help guard against anemia, low birth weight and premature birth. Calcium and Vitamin D play key roles in bone development, and copper helps form your baby's nervous system, heart and blood vessels.
Supplements Not to Take
Avoid regular vitamin supplements. As the FDA points out, they may not contain the correct amount of the vitamins or minerals you need for your baby. Baby Med recommends avoiding supplementing with large amounts of Vitamin A, because it can negatively affect fetal development and cause liver problems when ingested in amounts of 10,000 IU or greater. Likewise, large amounts of Vitamin E have been associated with congenital heart problems. Too much Vitamin K may lead to jaundice, and the FDA warns against too much Vitamin D, as toxicity can occur in large doses, though research is varied on what constitutes a "too large" dose of this vitamin.
When to Start/Stop
Start your prenatal vitamins before conception, and continue on them until after you're no longer expecting. As the Mayo Clinic website explains, folic acid plays a role in developing the neural tube, which become the brain and the spinal cord for the developing baby, so it is important to consume folic acid even before you know you are pregnant. That being said, always consult your doctor before starting or stopping a vitamin supplement -- she may keep you on them after your baby is born, especially if you choose to nurse.
Should I Switch During My Pregnancy?
You may switch vitamin supplements during your pregnancy as long as the brand you choose has the recommended amounts of the correct vitamins in it. However, as the American Pregnancy Association suggests, you should check with your medical practitioner before doing so. Be careful if you choose to combine vitamin supplements -- you run the risk of overdosing on a given vitamin or mineral.