During pregnancy it becomes more important than ever that women get all the nourishment their body needs. Babies need proper nutrients from foods their mothers eat to develop their cells, bones and organs and have a good shot at living a healthy and normal life. Generally, eating health while pregnant will ensure that babies get proper nutrition, but doctors will prescribe prenatal vitamins to give an added boost of essential vitamins and minerals to pregnant women’s health and the health of their unborn children. Among these essential vitamins and minerals doctors prescribe to pregnant women are calcium, folic acid (folate) and iron.
It is important that pregnant women get the recommended daily amount of calcium (1,200 mg a day) that they need. Women who don’t get the recommended amount of calcium during pregnancy run the risk of developing osteoporosis later in life, as the growing fetus takes calcium from their mothers’ bones. Pregnant women to ensure that they and their babies have enough calcium generally take prenatal vitamins that contain about 100-200 mg of calcium a day. Calcium helps to build babies’bones and helps to lower mothers’ blood pressure or prevent pregnancy-induced hypertension due to low calcium intake. Calcium is also found to have positive effects on birth weights and contribute to a low blood pressure for infants.
While a daily dose of calcium from prenatal vitamins contains 100-200 mg of calcium and the recommended amount of calcium per day is 1,200 mg, it becomes even more important that pregnant women drink enough glasses of milk or consume some other dairy product to meet the daily requirement of calcium intake.
An extremely low intake of calcium during pregnancy can lead to dangerous effects. A 2000 study in the Journal of Epidemiology conclude that pregnant women who suffer from calcium deficiency puts themselves and their babies at risk for dangers from lead poisoning. It is said that pregnant women with calcium deficiency release lead faster from bones into the blood than do women without calcium deficiency.
Folic acid is another essential vitamin that pregnant women need to take. It is important that not just pregnant women take folic acid (folate), but that all women of childbearing age get the recommended daily amount of folic acid (400 micrograms). This is because most debilitating diseases such as child mental retardation, anencephaly and spina bifida occur before most women realize they are
pregnant. So women who are likely to become pregnant should ensure that they have enough folic acid in their system before the conception of their child. Some studies even suggest that taking folic acid can prevent babies against having cleft lips and palate and some heart conditions. Prenatal vitamins contain 600-1000mcg of folic acid per daily usage.
The food that we eat mostly contains folate, the natural form of folic acid. But the folate found in food is not as easily absorbed by the body as syntheticfolic acid found in prenatal vitamins. So it becomes important that women supplement their diet with folic acid at least one month before becoming pregnant, provided that a doctor has recommended folic acid supplementation. Foods that contain folate in high doses include leafy green vegetables, oranges, orange juice, dried beans and legumes. If a food contains the sign ‘enriched’, it is likely it contains folic acid. In the US, grains such as flour, rice, pasta, cereals and bread are enriched with folic acid.
Iron is an important nutrient for all women, but becomes doubly important for pregnant women. Pregnant women need iron to stay strong as the baby will take from the iron stored in the blood. Pregnant women with low iron in the blood feel fatigued and are prone to fainting spells and illnesses. A lack of iron can result put a pregnant women’s heart at risk and also endanger her life if she loses a lot of blood during delivery. Also, iron is needed to form the babies’
red blood cells.
The recommended daily amount of iron to take while pregnant is 27 mg and most prenatal vitamins contains between 27 and 60 mg. The latter number is not too much considering that most women do not have enough iron in their blood before pregnancy. Doctors recommend that pregnant women take iron supplements with orange juice or fruit juice as Vitamin C helps in the absorption of iron.
Pregnant women should take either prenatal vitamins or a specific vitamin or mineral they need. It is dangerous to take more than the recommended daily dose of any vitamin or mineral. So unless a doctor specifically states that a particular vitamin or mineral needs to be taken along with prenatal vitamins, do not take both.