In the first month of pregnancy alone, your baby’s brain, spinal cord, heart, lungs, arms and legs are beginning to develop, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG). To aid in the development of your unborn child, one of the things moms-to-be should do is take a prenatal vitamin.
“I call it setting the stage for this baby’s formation,” says Cathy Keoshian, manager of nutrition at the Better Health Store.
However, you don’t have to wait until you’re expecting to add a prenatal vitamin to your daily routine.
Dr. Corey, who serves as health expert spokesperson for Better Health Store and is a board certified Naturopathic Doctor at Thrive On Life in Brighton, suggests following the methods of women in native cultures who got a jumpstart on pregnancy nutrition.
“If you have the time and the foresight ahead of time, spend a couple of years before you want to get pregnant preparing your body,” Dr. Corey says.
While prenatal vitamins are important, they are not all the same. To properly aid in your baby’s development, there are a few things to consider.
Here, Dr. Corey and Keoshian offer insight on the dos and don’ts of prenatal vitamins.
Prenatal vitamin dos
Choose a food-based vitamin. Keoshian and Dr. Corey both suggest food-based vitamins for moms-to-be. All the nutrients in these vitamins are from food and aren’t hard to stomach, which is helpful for a sometimes-queasy mama. Garden of Life, Mega Food and New Chapter are some food-based options to consider.
Search for vitamins that include the following nutrients.
- Vitamin A. The safest form is beta carotene, Keoshian notes. Shoot for around 400 mcg and no more than 800 mcg daily, Dr. Corey suggests.
- Folic acid. Look for folate as folic acid is the synthetic version, Dr. Corey notes. 400-1,000 micrograms is the recommended dosage.
- Iron. It assists in carrying oxygen to the mother and the baby, plus helps muscle and blood cell development of the fetus, Keoshian says. It’s good to get a food-based form of iron because it’s less constipating and more absorbed, she adds. 18 to 27 milligrams is the typical dosage.
- Calcium. This helps develop the circulation, nervous, and muscular system, in addition to helping mom maintain bone density. Take 1,000 milligrams.
- DHA. It’s good for the eyes, nervous system, mom’s focus, neural tube development and more. Take between 200 and 500 milligrams daily.
- Vitamin D: “That does many, many things in the body, but mostly as far as prenatal goes it’s for strong and healthy bones. It’s also good for heart development in the fetus,” Keoshian says. “Lack of D can cause lots of problems,” such as poor bone growth or limited calcium absorption. You need the D to help absorb the calcium. 400 IUs (international units) is recommended but you can push up to 5,000 IUs, Dr. Corey notes.
- Vitamin C: You can take up to 500 milligrams per day, Keoshian says, to develop collagen, build cartilage, tendons, bones and skin in the fetus. It’s also anti-inflammatory for mom, helps fight infection and helps absorb iron.
- Vitamin E: Take 100 to 200 IUs daily to give cells their structure and help protect cell membranes.
- Zinc: “Low levels of zinc have been associated with low birth weight, which can also lead to other health issues,” Keoshian says. Zinc also helps the immune system. Take 15 to 30 grams daily, Dr. Corey suggests.
- Iodine. Take 150 micrograms, Dr. Corey says. This helps develop the fetus’ central nervous system.
- B Vitamins. “All the B vitamins together help create the brain, nervous system, muscles and heart,” Keoshian says. “They work together like a family.”
Take your vitamin with food. Eating can help absorb the prenatal vitamin and it’s easier on the stomach.
Add in extra supplements: These include a probiotic, DHA, calcium, choline and minerals. “Minerals, minerals, minerals. It’s an absence of minerals that sets the stage for all disease processes in the body, and the baby robs us of minerals. That’s why moms that have had a ton of babies start to have dental problems,” Dr. Corey says. She recommends a mineral blend like Trace Minerals, which you can add to your water bottle.
You can even start adding egg yolks, fish oil and cod liver oil — which is rich in vitamins A and D. Throw organic grass-fed butter powder into your smoothie if you’re a keto dieter.
Educate yourself on brands. Going to a health food store like Better Health where there’s a nutritionist on staff and all employees are schooled on supplements, is one of the best ways to get educated on different options. “Sometimes just going over the counter, you might not get the best quality,” Keoshian adds.
Prenatal vitamin don’ts
Don’t take a regular multivitamin. “You want to avoid any extra high dosing of anything,” Keoshian says. “That’s why you don’t want to just take a regular multivitamin or high-dose vitamin. You definitely want to take a prenatal and one of the reasons you want to take a prenatal vitamin is that it will have a higher dose of folic acid and that’s one of the most important nutrients.”
Don’t take all your calcium at once. Divide up your calcium dosage, Keoshian says, by taking 500 milligrams twice daily. The reason? Your body cannot digest more than 500 milligrams of calcium at a time.
Don’t overdose. While vitamin B is water soluble and won’t hurt you if you take too much, there are some vitamins that you want to watch the dosage, including vitamin E, iodine and zinc. High doses of E can be a blood thinner, Keoshian says. More than 100 milligrams of zinc can be toxic to moms, as can iodine. So, stick with no more than 50 milligrams of zinc and the small dosage of iodine found in your prenatal.
Avoid herbs. Herbs can affect the baby and the fetus, Keoshian says. They can cause miscarriage, premature birth and contractions, according to the American Pregnancy Association. It’s still safe to take ginger to calm nausea, Keoshian says, but consult your doctor about any other herbs.
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