It takes more than an apple a day to maintain a healthy pregnancy. You probably began taking a daily prenatal vitamin before you conceived, but if you’re not, it’s essential to start immediately: These specially formulated multivitamins make up for diet deficiencies and provide valuable protection for both your health and your baby’s.
What’s in my prenatal vitamins?
Folic acid is one of the most important components of prenatal vitamins: 400 mcg per day reduces the risk of neural tube defects — serious birth defects of the brain and spinal cord. While you can get folate from your diet, it’s difficult to know whether you’re getting enough without a supplement.
Prenatal vitamins also supply about 200 to 300 mg of calcium, which your baby uses to grow. If there isn’t enough calcium in your body, the baby will begin leaching it from your bones, reducing your bone density. (Ever heard the old wives’ tale that you lose a tooth for every baby you have? This is where it comes from!)
If you’re already nauseous, choking back these pills can be a problem. Speak to your doctor, who may be able to help you find another brand or a supplement in liquid form that goes down a little easier.
What about omega-3s and fish?
Omega-3s are “good fats” (polyunsaturated fatty acids) that your body can’t produce. They’re found in foods like seeds, fish and plants, but most people don’t get enough of them.
The third trimester sees incredible neurological growth in your baby, drawing more of these essential fats from your stores than ever before. Of the omega-3 and -6 fats, the most important one for mom and baby is docosahexaenoic acid (DHA, for short). DHA provides fuel for your baby’s developing brain and retinas, improving vision and brain function, and increasing IQ; reduces the risk of developmental disorders such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), dyslexia and dyspraxia; increases gestation time and birth weight; and may reduce the severity of allergies.
Omega-3s can also reduce your chances of going into preterm labour, as well as lower your risks of both pre-eclampsia and postpartum depression.
Good sources include walnuts; dark green veggies; canola and sunflower oils; omega-3 fortified eggs, bread and juice; as well as oily fish (like mackerel, herring, sardines and salmon). However, be cautious of the mercury content and environmental toxins in some fish, which can be dangerous for your developing baby. Limit your consumption of fresh or frozen tuna, shark, swordfish, marlin, orange roughy and escolar to no more than one cup per month, and no more than two cups per week of canned white tuna.
Quality fish oil or prenatal omega-3 supplements found at a pharmacy or health-food store are also good options.
Read more: Pregnancy power foods>
The power of probiotics
Lastly, consider adding a probiotic to your routine. They boost your immune system, and can alleviate digestive issues such as gas, constipation, diarrhea and irritable bowel syndrome. They also help your body fight off food poisoning bacteria such as E. coli and salmonella, and help with the absorption of calcium and iron. Some studies show that probiotics may reduce the risk of allergies in your infant, too.
Eating plain, unsweetened organic yogurt is also helpful, but you won’t get the same amount of beneficial bacteria as you would by taking a probiotic supplement.
Amazingly, during labour your body sends good bacteria from the intestines to the birth canal for an initial boost of immunity (this helps you and your infant avoid yeast or thrush after birth), so increasing probiotic levels in the intestines can result both in a healthier you, and a healthier, happier baby.
This article is excerpted from Healthy Pregnancy, a special guide from the editors of Today’s Parent, on newsstands and at todaysparent.com/subscribe.
Originally published in July 2013.