Prenatal Vitamins

OBs have routinely given pregnant women prescriptions for specialized prenatal vitamins at their first prenatal visit. Now, more and more doctors are advising women to take supplements even before they conceive. And with some prenatal vitamin formulas now available without a prescription.

It turns out that you may be able to get what’s most crucial for the development of a healthy baby from a regular one-a-day multivitamin. According to researchers who work to prevent birth defects, taking 400 micrograms of folic acid every day in addition to what you get in a balanced diet, before and just after conception, can prevent up to 70 percent of neural tube defects (problems with the developing baby’s brain or spine that can be devastating). That amount is found in many one-a-day multivitamin/mineral formulas, especially in those designed for women.

During pregnancy, you also may need more iron and calcium; and since you probably won’t know you’re pregnant for the earliest weeks, it’s a good idea to start boosting your intake of both these minerals as soon as you start “trying.” For iron, the recommended intake for adult women is 18 milligrams per day, and that’s what you’ll find in most multivitamins. Pregnant women need more—27 milligrams daily—and that’s typically the threshold for prenatal formulas.

When it comes to calcium, even prescription supplements often don’t match up to the levels of calcium that nutrition experts recommend for women approaching childbearing age, which is 1000 milligrams each day. That level of calcium makes a multivitamin pill too large. Taking a separate calcium supplement is one option, as is taking an over-the-counter prenatal formula, which sometimes has more calcium than the prescription versions. And women should be sure to get plenty of calcium in their diets, from dairy products and leafy greens.

You may have to try several formulas before you find one you like. Some may upset your stomach (particularly formulas high in iron). Others may be too large to swallow easily.