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Eating a healthy diet is always a wise idea -- especially during pregnancy. It's a good idea during pregnancy to take a prenatal vitamin to help cover any nutritional gaps in your diet.

Folic Acid

Folic acid before and during pregnancy can help prevent birth defects of your baby's brain and spinal cord. The recommended dose of folic acid is at least 400mcg a day and preferably 800mcg a day.

Folic acid is a B vitamin and also known as folate. The best food sources of folic acid are fortified cereals. Folic acid plays an important role in the production of red blood cells and helps your baby's neural tube develop into his/her brain and spinal cord.

Without enough folic acid in your body, your baby's neural tube may not close correctly and he/she could develop health problems called neural tube defects, which are anomalies associated with poor or incomplete closure of the neural tube. These defects include:

  • Spina bifida: incomplete development of the spinal cord or the vertebrae
  • Anencephaly: incomplete development of the skull and major parts of the brain
  • Gastroschisis/Omphalocele: Incomplete closure of the abdominal wall.

Babies with anencephaly usually do not live long, and those with spina bifida may be permanently disabled. Gastroschisis and Omphalocele may effects your baby’s bowel function. If you get enough folic acid you may protect your baby from neural tube defects by at least 50%, and if you've already had a baby with a neural tube defect, by taking enough folic acid you may reduce your risk of having another child with a neural tube defect by as much as 70%.

When taken before and during pregnancy, folic acid may also protect your baby against:

  • Miscarriage
  • Poor growth in the womb
  • Cleft lip and palate
  • Premature birth
  • Low birth weight

It is ideal to start folic acid before or early in pregnancy, since birth defects occur within the first 3-4 weeks of pregnancy. So it is important to have folic acid in your system during those early stages when your baby's brain and spinal cord are developing.

When you are planning on becoming pregnant is the best time to start folic acid, which may decrease your baby’s risk of neural tube defects by about 50%. The CDC recommends that all women of childbearing age take folic acid every day.

It is recommended that you begin Folic Acid before you are pregnant and continue taking every day through breast feeding.

Folic acid may also reduce your risk of:

  • Pregnancy complications (taking folic acid supplements during the second trimester may reduce your risk of preeclampsia.)
  • Heart disease
  • Some types of cancer
  • Stroke
  • Alzheimer´s disease

Omega 3/DHA

Infants born to mothers with higher blood levels of the omega-3 fatty acid docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) at delivery had advanced levels of attention spans well into their second year of life. During the first six months of life, these infants were two months ahead of those babies whose mothers had lower DHA levels.

  • DHA is important for the developing brain, which accumulates large amounts of it during the first two years of life. Compared to the rest of the body, the brain and nervous system contains very high levels of DHA but its exact role in the brain is not fully known.
  • DHA is found naturally in breast milk and is available in Infant formulas and some baby foods. Atlantic salmon, Pacific cod fish, and tuna are some of the best food sources of the omega- 3 fatty acid.
  • It appears that babies born to mothers with a higher level of Omega 3/DHA have a possible mental and visual advantage, yet it is not yet clear how much DHA a woman needs during pregnancy.

Calcium and Vitamin D

When you're pregnant, your developing baby needs calcium to build strong bones and teeth; to grow a healthy heart, nerves, and muscles; and to develop a normal heart rhythm and blood-clotting abilities. If you don't get enough calcium in your diet when you're pregnant, your baby will draw it from your bones, which may have a negative impact on your own health.

Women need around 1,200 milligrams (mg) of calcium a day before, during, and after pregnancy

Vitamin D is an important nutrient needed for the absorption of calcium, and you should get around 400 IU a day.

Most American women don't get nearly enough calcium in their diet.

Even after your baby's born and you're finished nursing, you should keep paying attention to your calcium intake.

You'll need the mineral to help strengthen bones and prevent bone loss (osteoporosis) later in life.

Some food sources of calcium

  • 1 cup plain skim-milk yogurt: 488 mg
  • 1 cup nonfat fruit yogurt: 345 mg
  • 1/2 cup part-skim ricotta cheese: 337 mg
  • 3 ounces sardines (drained solids with bone): 324 mg
  • 8 ounces skim milk: 301 mg
  • 1 cup calcium-fortified orange juice: 300 mg
  • 1 ounce mozzarella cheese: 222 mg
  • 1 ounce cheddar cheese: 204 mg
  • 3 ounces canned pink salmon, with bones and liquid: 181 mg
  • 1/2 cup cooked spinach: 136 mg
  • 1 cup nonfat cottage cheese: 125 mg
  • 1/2 cup boiled turnip greens: 98 mg
  • 2 corn tortillas: 92 mg
  • 1 tablespoon sesame seeds: 88 mg
  • 1 ounce (about 23 whole) dry roasted almonds: 75 mg

Things to remember with calcium supplementation

  • Prenatal vitamins usually have 150-200mg of calcium.
  • Try to separate additional calcium supplements, since your body can usually effectively absorb around 500mg of calcium at a time. Take vitamin D with your calcium, since it helps your body absorb and utilize calcium.
  • Drink plenty of water, since calcium may constipate you.
  • Take your calcium at different times than you take your iron, since it decreases your iron absorption.
  • Calcium citrate is the easiest form of calcium for your body to absorb.

Magnesium

Magnesium helps build and repair your body's tissues. A severe deficiency during pregnancy may lead to preeclampsia (toxemia), poor fetal growth, and even infant death.

Magnesium works in conjunction with calcium. Magnesium also helps build strong bones and teeth, regulates insulin and blood sugar levels, and helps certain enzymes function. Magnesium may also be helpful in reducing leg cramps.

It is ideal to take around 400 mg of Magnesium a day.

Magnesium is plentiful in seeds, whole grains, green leafy vegetables, some fish and some legumes. Some common food sources: