Women are advised to take prenatal vitamins before and during pregnancy. Prenatal vitamins are specially formulated multivitamins that supplement a diet and often make up for any nutritional deficiencies in the mother's diet.
The most important ingredient in prenatal vitamins is folic acid, a B vitamin. Folic acid can reduce your risk of having a baby with a serious birth defect of the brain and spinal cord, called the "neural tube."
While a daily vitamin supplement is no substitute for a healthy diet, most women need supplements to make sure they get adequate levels of these minerals.
In order to be effective, folic acid must be taken at least 1-2 months prior to conception. Because about half of all pregnancies are unplanned, the U.S. Public Health Service recommends that all women of childbearing age get 400-600 micrograms of folic acid each day.
In fact, the FDA now requires that all flour products — such as bread, buns, and bagels — be fortified with extra folic acid. A woman who has had a prior child with a neural tube defect should discuss the appropriate dose of folic acid with her doctor before her next pregnancy.
Studies have shown that taking a larger dose (up to 4,000 micrograms) at least one month before and during the first trimester may be beneficial. Calcium during pregnancy can prevent a new mother from losing her own bone density as the fetus uses the mineral for bone growth. Iron helps both the mother and baby's blood carry oxygen.
While a daily vitamin supplement is no substitute for a healthy diet, most women need supplements to make sure they get adequate levels of these minerals. Not all prenatal vitamins are the same. You should take a prenatal vitamin that has about 100% of the recommended daily allowance (RDA).