Planning a pregnancy in the next few months? Yippee! Congrats! Before the baby-making begins, make sure that your body is primed to grow a healthy, thriving baby.
While improving your nutrition at ANY stage of pregnancy is fabulous, it’s better to start adopting new habits before that positive pregnancy test. Research suggests that a Mother’s healthy eating habits positively affect her baby’s health at birth and beyond.
What’s most important is that you’re eating healthfully most of the time, making sure to include lean sources of protein, calcium-rich foods, whole grains and veggies and fruits in your diet (with a treat here and there, of COURSE). But because your nutrient requirements increase during pregnancy, it’s important that you start taking a good pre-natal multivitamin before you become pregnant to fill any nutritional gaps. Even if you are a super-star healthy eater, it’s nearly impossible to meet all of your requirements with food alone. This doesn’t mean that you have to go out and spend your life-savings on expensive vitamins from the health food store! Instead, a good quality pre-natal multivitamin from your local grocery or drug store will suffice.
Here’s what to look for in a pre-natal multivitamin:
Folic Acid: Folic Acid is extremely important to help protect your baby against neural tube defects (which turn into brain and spinal cord defects) in those first days and weeks after conception when many women are not aware that they are pregnant yet. What’s recommended is 400-1000 micrograms (mcg) per day (most pre-natal supplements contain 1000 mcg).
Iron: Iron is important for oxygen transport throughout your body and it also helps to reduce the risk of pre-term birth as well as low birth weight. When you become pregnant, your iron needs triple (think about all of that extra blood that you have circulating in your body!). It’s hard to obtain this extra iron from diet alone, so what’s recommended is 27 mg per day. Most pre-natal’s contain this amount. If you become anemic during pregnancy (which is not uncommon), your Doctor, Dietitian or Midwife may recommend an additional Iron supplement.
Calcium: Your calcium requirements increase during pregnancy (to 1500 mg per day) not only to support your own bone health, but also to help to build strong, healthy bones and teeth for your baby. Most pre-natal multivitamins contain about 300 mg of calcium. A pre-natal supplement will not support all of your calcium needs, so it’s important that you’re also including calcium-rich foods in your diet.
Vitamin D3: Make sure that your Multivitamin contains extra Vitamin D. Vitamin D helps with calcium absorption which is essential for bone health. It also helps to prevent Rickets (which can lead to birth deformities), delays in physical development and abnormal bone growth. If you’re lacking vitamin D during pregnancy, your baby may fall short of the vitamin at birth. The Dietary Recommended Intake (DRI) of Vitamin D for pregnant and breastfeeding women in Canada is 600 IU per day (I usually recommend 1000 IU’s per day though. Make sure to top up with an additional Vitamin D3 supplement if your pre-natal Vitamin does not supply this amount (most won’t).
Don’t overdose in Vitamin A: You also want to make sure that you’re not getting TOO much of any nutrient. More specifically, you don’t want to overdose on Vitamin A, because it may cause birth defects in your baby. Limit your Vitamin A supplementation to no more than 5000 IU’s per day. Most regulated prenatal multivitamins will not exceed this amount.
Make sure that your supplement is government-regulated: Look for proof of government regulation on the supplement container. You should see a DIN # (Drug Identification Number), NPN# (Natural Health Product Number). Either of these will do. This basically means that your supplement contains what it says it contains, it is in a safe dose if taken as directed and is of high quality.