Are you trying to conceive or already pregnant? You'll have to make many decisions in your child’s life, even before he is born and the very first one is which prenatal vitamin you will take before, during and after your pregnancy.
The Importance of Prenatal Vitamins
Prenatal vitamins are crucial in the healthy development of your unborn baby. It supplements your diet and ensures that you're providing all of the vitamins you and your fetus needs. Not taking prenatal vitamins could have detrimental effects such as spina bifida, which is the non-closure of the spine - leading to the exposure of nerves and possible paralysis, incontinence and mental retardation.
Since spina bifida develops in the first 28 days after conception, taking prenatal vitamin with folic acid before you become pregnant can help prevent this birth defect, however, if you just found out you're pregnant and haven’t taken any prenatal, you still have time to protect your baby. Begin taking it as soon as possible and discuss any concerns you have with your doctor.
What to Look for When Choosing a Prenatal
Since this is the first major decision you'll make for your child’s benefit, it’s good to know all of the information necessary to choose the best prenatal vitamin. As mentioned, you'll need a vitamin that has folic acid, but you need to have enough of it. Make sure you're getting 800 micrograms before pregnancy and 1000 micrograms every day during pregnancy, according to the Institute for Clinical Systems Improvement.
For other dosages, WebMD advises that prenatal vitamins should contain at least 400 IU of vitamin D, 200 to 300 mg of calcium, 70 mg of vitamin C, 3 mg of thiamine, 2 mg of riboflavin, 20 mg of niacin, 6 mcg of vitamin B12, 10 mg of vitamin E, 15 mg of zinc and 17 mg of iron.
Important Facts on Supplements for You and Baby
1. More Isn’t Better
While you want to make sure that you get all of the vitamins and minerals you need for yourself and your future baby, don’t overdo it. You can also harm the fetus if you take too much. For example, overdosing on vitamin A could cause birth defects, so never take more than 10,000 IUs a day. When taking prenatal vitamins, you should avoid taking any other supplements, according to the American Pregnancy Association.
2. Prescription Isn’t Better Than Over the Counter
Also, don’t believe that prescription vitamins are better than over the counter. Many times, obstetricians prescribe prenatal so that the insurance company picks up the cost. What matters is that you take a prenatal that with essential vitamins and nutrients.
3. Your Body Still Needs Healthy Food
Now, don’t rely on your prenatal for everything your body needs. You must still eat a healthy diet, with an adequate amount of calcium. No prenatal has enough calcium, so you need to compensate by consuming dairy products.
4. What About DHA?
DHA is a hot topic among expectant mothers, should you or shouldn’t you take it? DHA is an important fatty acid that aids in brain development and the neurological development of the baby. Studies conflict on whether it makes children smarter.
In one study discussed on WebMD, mothers who had high levels of DHA in their blood at delivery had children with longer attention spans at age two and babies in the first six months were two months ahead in development compared to those who were born to mothers with lower levels of DHA.
However, the New York Times reported that in a study published in The Journal of the American Medical Association, DHA had no significant cognitive benefits. Therefore, the choice is yours on whether or not to take this supplement. If you do choose to, know that you can find prenatal vitamins with DHA included, which means you take one pill and you're done.
Talk to Your Doctor
Always talk to your doctor about your choice in prenatal vitamins. You want to make sure you choose the best one for you and your baby’s health during this critical time.
 - Pregnancy and prenatal vitamins, Health and Pregnancy, WebMD
 - Prenatal Vitamins, Pregnancy & Childbirth, About.com
 - Prenatal Vitamins, American Pregnancy Association, AmericanPregnancy.org
 - Advanced Attention Span in Babies Whose Mothers Eat More Essential Fats, Health and Pregnancy, WebMD
 - Fish Oil Use in Pregnancy Didn’t Make Babies Smart, The New York Times