Women's Healthcare Topics

Why is it Important to Take Prenatal Vitamins Before Pregnancy?

Reviewed by James Brann, M.D.

Preparing for Your Baby

If you’re thinking about getting pregnant, you want to make sure you’re eating healthy. This may mean changing your eating habits and starting with a multivitamin containing folic acid. The first step is to go see your nurse or doctor. They’ll be able to help you figure out what your diet needs to include to result in a healthy pregnancy.

A baby needs the right foods and nutrients to develop normally. If you eat some of the wrong foods, it could hurt your child. Things like raw and undercooked meat or unpasteurized milk could lead to an infection that ends in a miscarriage. By the same token, even too much of a good thing can be bad for your baby. An excess of vitamin A, meaning more than 10,000 international units each day, could result in birth defects, so be careful with vitamin supplements.

Eating healthy is also important for you. A healthy, growing baby needs to take nutrients from you. You’ll then need to make sure you’re replacing those nutrients to stay healthy and keep your energy high.

Good Foods during Pregnancy

Learn what fa well balanced diet before pregnancy.
  • Vegetables
  • Freshfruits
  • Low-fat dairy products
  • Whole grains
  • Protein- including eggs, beans, dried peas, fish or meat
  • Calcium- from dairy or other sources

If you’re a vegetarian, you’ll want to talk to an expert, likely a nutritionist, about your choices in food. You may be missing important nutrients that a growing baby needs.

Good Food Preparation

While you’re pregnant, you really need to think about ways to avoid germs in your food. If you do get an infection, it could lead to some serious problems. Here are a few tips:

  • Fully cook beef, chicken, other meats, fish and eggs

  • Wash hands thoroughly with water and soap before handling food

  • Wash hands after preparing food, as well as anything that came in contact with deli meats or raw meat in soapy, hot water. This means spoons, knives, cutting boards and countertops.

  • Rise off vegetables and fresh fruits with running water before eating

You’ll also want to avoid certain types of food that may carry germs, including:

  • Unpasteurized juice, cheese or milk

  • Raw clover, alfalfa, mung bean and radish

Pregnancy Health Section

Foods to Avoid

You’ll want to avoid all alcohol, limit the caffeine, and ask your doctor about herbal products before taking them. You also need to avoid eating certain fish that contains high levels of mercury. Mercury may prevent your child’s normal brain development. Fish to avoid may include:

  • Tilefish
  • King mackerel
  • Swordfish
  • Shark

As for fish without high levels of mercury, you can eat it, but only one or two times per week. Safe choices include canned light tuna, Pollock, salmon, catfish and shrimp. While tuna steaks are fine, you’ll only want to eat them once per week. As for locally caught fish from lakes and rivers, be sure and check with your nurse or doctor.

  • Alcohol - Avoid using alcohol while pregnant. Even drinking a small amount could harm your child.

  • Herbal products - Some herbal teas may not be safe for your baby, so always check with your nurse or doctor before using.

  • Caffeine - Don’t drink more than one or two cups of coffee on a daily basis. While cola and tea also contain caffeine, it’s less than coffee.

Why is it Important for a Woman to take Prenatal Vitamins?

Women who hope to get pregnant should start taking prenatal vitamins. These vitamin supplements also include minerals like calcium and iron that help your child’s growth and development. They also help with other potential problems, such as lowering the risk of certain birth defects. You’ll want to start taking a prenatal vitamin about a month before you get pregnant, and then continue throughout your pregnancy.

Here’s what to look for:

  • Labeled “prenatal”

  • At least 400 micrograms of folic acid

  • At least 600 units of vitamin D

Folic acid is vital for the prevention of certain types of birth defects. Be sure and bring your vitamins with your to your doctor visit so your medical provider can tell you whether the vitamins contain the right dose for you and your child. Remember, taking an excess of certain vitamins may be harmful.

Vitamin D supplementation is recommended in pregnancy. There are known pregnancy complications with low vitamin D levels, such as preeclampsia, gestational diabetes, premature delivery and small babies. Recommended daily dose for vitamin D is 600 IU, which can be found in most but not all prenatal vitamins. Treatment doses up to 1000 to 2000 units’ of vitamin D per day are safe.

Weight Gain

The amount of weight you should gain depends on your weight before you get pregnant. Check with your nurse or doctor about what’s the right amount for you. Generally, if you’re at a healthy weight, this means gaining anywhere from 25-30 pounds throughout your pregnancy. If you’re overweight or obese, you’ll generally want to gain less weight.

If you’re pregnant and losing weight, though, make sure you call your nurse or doctor. This may be due to a severe problem with morning sickness.

Affording to Eat Well

If you find yourself needing additional financial help to eat healthy, talk with your nurse or doctor. There are programs out there for this purpose. In the United States, the government-run “WIC” program aims to help with the nutritional needs of women and their families. On a local basis, a number of towns and states also have their own programs aimed at helping pregnant and nursing women.


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