Folic acid: Pregnant women need 400 micrograms (400 mcg) of folic acid every day to help prevent birth defects.
Folic acid is important for any woman who could possibly become pregnant. Folic acid is a B vitamin that helps prevent serious birth defects of a baby’s brain or spine called neural tube defects. Getting enough folic acid can also help prevent birth defects like cleft lip and congenital heart disease.
Getting enough folic acid is most important very early in pregnancy, usually before a woman knows she is pregnant. So, at least one month before you try to become pregnant you should make sure you’re getting enough folic acid. Women who are already pregnant need to get enough folic acid every single day.
An easy way to get enough folic acid is to take a multivitamin every day. Most multivitamins sold in the U.S. contain enough folic acid for the day. But be sure to check the label! Choose a multivitamin that contains 400 mcg or 100% of the Daily Value (DV) for folic acid.
Another way to get enough folic acid is to eat a serving of breakfast cereal that contains 100% DV for folic acid, every day. Check the nutrition label on the box of cereal to be sure. It should say “100%” next to folic acid. Orange juice, spinach and legumes are also good sources of folic acid.
Iron: Pregnant women need twice as much iron — 30 mg per day — than other women.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that pregnant women start taking a low-dose iron supplement (30 mg/day) or a multivitamin with iron beginning at the time of their first prenatal visit. Ask your doctor what she recommends. Prenatal vitamins prescribed by your doctor or those you can buy over-the-counter usually have the amount of iron you need. But be sure to check the label to make sure. Pregnant women should also eat lots of iron-rich foods. Some good sources of iron include lean red meat, fish, poultry, dried fruits, whole-grain breads, and iron-fortified cereals.
Pregnant women need extra iron for the increased amount of blood in their bodies. Iron helps keep your blood healthy. Plus, your baby will store iron in his body to last through the first few months of life.
Too little iron can cause a condition called anemia. If you have anemia, you might look pale and feel very tired. Your doctor checks for signs of anemia with the routine blood tests taken at different stages of your pregnancy. If your doctor finds that you have anemia, she/he will give you a special iron supplement to take once or twice a day.
Calcium: Pregnant women aged 19 to 50 years should get 1,000 mg/day of calcium. Younger pregnant women need even more — 1300 mg/day.
Most women in the U.S. don’t eat enough calcium. So many pregnant women will have to change their diets to get their fill of this important mineral. Low-fat or non-fat milk, yogurt, cheese or other dairy products are great sources of calcium. Eating green leafy vegetables and calcium-fortified foods like orange juice and breakfast cereal can also provide calcium. If your diet is not providing 1,000 mg/day of calcium, talk to your doctor about taking a calcium supplement.
Water: Pregnant women should drink at least six eight-ounce glasses of water per day. Plus, pregnant women should drink another glass of water for each hour of activity.
Water plays a key role in your diet during pregnancy. It carries the nutrients from the food you eat to your baby. It also helps prevent constipation, hemorrhoids, excessive swelling, and urinary tract or bladder infections. Drinking enough water, especially in your last trimester, prevents you from becoming dehydrated. Not getting enough water can lead to premature or early labor.
Juices also contain water. But juice also has a lot of calories that can cause you to gain extra weight. Coffee, soft drinks, and teas with caffeine actually reduce the amount of fluid in your body. So caffeinated drinks do not count towards the total amount of water you need every day.