Here's what you should look for in a prenatal vitamin:
Folic acid: 600 micrograms
Folic acid is a B vitamin that every cell in your body needs for healthy growth and development. Taking it before and during early pregnancy, can help prevent neural tube defects (also called NTDs).
Some foods such as bread, cereal, and corn masa have folic acid added to them. Look for “fortified” on the label.
When folic acid is naturally in food, it’s called folate. Sources of folate include:
- Leafy green vegetables, like spinach and broccoli
- Lentils and beans
- Orange juice
Iron: 27 milligrams
Iron is a mineral. Your body uses iron to make hemoglobin, a protein that helps carry oxygen from your lungs to the rest of your body. Your body needs twice as much iron during pregnancy to carry oxygen to your baby. Most prenatal vitamins have this amount.
Iron-rich foods include:
- Lean meat, poultry and seafood
- Cereal, bread and pasta that has iron added to it (check the package label)
- Dark leafy green vegetables
- Beans, tofu and cashews.
Calcium: 1,000 milligrams
You need calcium during pregnancy to help your baby’s bones, heart, muscles and nerves develop. If you don’t get enough, your body takes it from your bones and gives it to your baby.
Calcium is found in:
- Milk, cheese and yogurt
- Spinach and kale
- Orange juice that has calcium added to it (check the label)
Vitamin D: 600 IU (international units)
Vitamin D helps your body absorb calcium and helps your nerves, muscles and immune system work. Your baby needs vitamin D to help his bones and teeth grow.
Vitamin D is found in foods such as:
- Fatty fish, like salmon
- Milk and cereal that has vitamin D added to it (check the package label)
DHA: 200 milligrams
DHA stands for docosahexaenoic acid. It’s a kind of fat (called omega-3 fatty acid) that helps with growth and development. During pregnancy, DHA helps your baby’s brain and eyes develop.
Not all prenatal vitamins contain DHA, so ask your provider if you need a DHA supplement. DHA can be found in some foods including:
- Fatty fish that are low in mercury, like herring, salmon, trout, anchovies and halibut. During pregnancy, eat 8-12 ounces of these kinds of fish each week.
- Orange juice, milk and eggs that have DHA added to them (check the label)
Iodine: 220 micrograms
Iodine is a mineral your body needs to make thyroid hormones. You need iodine during pregnancy to help your baby’s brain and nervous system develop.
Not all prenatal vitamins have iodine, so make sure you eat foods that have iodine in them. This includes:
- Milk, cheese and yogurt
- Enriched or fortified cereal and bread (check the package label)
- Iodized salt (salt with iodine added to it; check the package label)
A note about vitamin A….
Your baby needs vitamin A for healthy growth and development during pregnancy. But too much may cause birth defects.
Preformed vitamin A is found in foods such as liver and fish liver oil. You should avoid fish liver oil supplements during pregnancy, but occasionally you can eat a small portion of liver. Very high levels of preformed vitamin A can cause birth defects. You should not get more than 10,000 international units (IU) of vitamin A each day.
Beta carotene is another form of vitamin A found in certain yellow and green vegetables. Beta carotene is not associated with birth defects and is safe to consume.
Talk to your health care provider about getting the right amount of vitamin A from healthy eating and your prenatal vitamin.
Make sure to tell your provider about any additional vitamins or supplements that you take.