Although all vitamins and minerals contribute to the proper functioning of the human body, it is now known that 4 micronutrients are priority for the pregnant woman: folic acid, iron, calcium and vitamin D. They are called micronutrients because the body uses only very small amounts. They play a leading role in all stages of embryo and fetal growth .
Vitamin and mineral supplements
Daily prenatal supplementation with vitamins and minerals is recommended for pregnant women. Sometimes, the diet does not provide enough of some nutrients that play a crucial role during pregnancy. Multivitamin helps to fill the gaps that could occur during the 9 months of pregnancy. Having a healthy diet is however paramount. The multivitamin is far from offering as many benefits as food.
The multivitamin should contain 0.4 mg to 1 mg folic acid, as well as iron (16 mg to 20 mg). The amounts may vary, as recommended by your doctor. Women planning to become pregnant should start taking folic acid before they start pregnancy.
The Society of Obstetricians and Gynecologists of Canada points out that a pregnant woman may have to supplement calcium, vitamin D, or iron in addition to best over the counter prenatal vitamin, depending on her diet and health. Talk to your doctor.
Folic acid (vitamin B9)
This vitamin is important, especially in early pregnancy. Nowadays, doctors even recommend that pregnant women take a multivitamin containing folic acid two to three months before they conceive the child. Folic acid is particularly useful when new tissues need to be formed. This is why the embryo needs it from the first day. It contributes to the formation of blood, brain and nervous system cells.
Folic acid deficiency may cause stunting, congenital malformation or neural tube defects. The daily requirements for folic acid in pregnant women vary from 0.4 mg to 1.0 mg per day. In Canada and the United States, folic acid is added to white flour, cornmeal and pasta.
Foods that contain the most
- Dark green vegetables (spinach, asparagus, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, romaine lettuce, etc.).
- Legumes (red beans, soybeans, chickpeas and lentils).
- Fortified flours and pasta (made in Canada or the United States only, pasta made in Italy are not fortified).
- Orange fruits (oranges and orange juice, mandarins, cantaloupe).
- Iron is found in the red blood corpuscles. It allows red blood cells to capture oxygen in the lungs and transport it throughout the body, and to the fetus through the placenta. Pregnant women need more iron because their blood volume increases. In addition, they have to provide them to their future baby. The baby’s iron reserves at birth last for the first 6 months of life.
- Iron deficiency can cause anemia. It can cause fatigue and shortness of breath more quickly during exercise. The deficiency can be detected by a blood test. Vegetarian women and those with close or multiple pregnancies are more likely to lack iron.
The fetus needs calcium to make its skeleton. It is used to build bones and teeth. If the pregnant woman’s diet is not rich enough in calcium, the baby will draw it directly from the mother’s reserves. Calcium also helps maintain good blood pressure during pregnancy.
Foods that contain the most
- Dairy products (milks, yogurts, cheeses, etc.).
- Drink 2 cups of milk or an enriched soy beverage every day. Eat calcium-fortified tofu, cheese, enriched yogurt, calcium-fortified orange juice.
- Vegetables such as spinach, green cabbage and cabbage, watercress, fennel, etc., legumes such as black-eyed white and black beans, and some fruits (orange, rhubarb, figs and blackberries, for example) contain but also in less quantity.
- Vitamin D works in tandem with calcium. It allows to assimilate the calcium and to fix it on the bones. It also contributes to cell growth and the functioning of the immune system. Adequate vitamin D levels during pregnancy provide life-long benefits for pregnant women and their children. Although many foods contain or are fortified, the sun is the main source. As a result, populations living in the Nordic countries, such as Canada, often have insufficient levels of vitamin D during the winter months. It may be that even if you consume foods that contain “sun” vitamin, it is recommended that you take supplements.