Vitamins and minerals help give your body the nutrients it needs to stay healthy and repair any damages. You can get most vitamins by eating healthy foods that include:
- Whole-grain breads and pastas
- Milk products
- Lean red meat
- Fish that is low in mercury
It may be hard for some people to get enough vitamins and minerals in their foods. They may need to take a supplement. A supplement usually comes in the form of tablets or capsules.
Examples of people who need a supplement are:
- Women who can get pregnant should take a daily multivitamin containing 400 micrograms of folic acid every day to help prevent birth defects. Even if a woman is using birth control, it's a good idea to take a multivitamin, just in case she gets pregnant.
- Pregnant women often take a prenatal vitamin. It contains folic acid and important nutrients needed during pregnancy.
- People with certain health conditions may need extra vitamins and minerals. Some illnesses, such as anemia, arise because the body doesn't have enough of a certain nutrient, like iron. People with these illnesses can get extra nutrients through the foods they eat or supplements they take.
During pregnancy, your health provider may give you a prescription for a prenatal vitamin so that you and your baby get important nutrients for health. You can also buy prenatal vitamins without a prescription at most local drug stores.
Folic acid is one of the nutrients included in most prenatal vitamins.
- Folic acid helps prevent birth defects of the brain and spinal cord. It may also protect the pregnant woman against cancer and stroke.
- Pregnant women should get 600 micrograms of folic acid every day from food and supplements.
- Most prenatal vitamins contain 600–1,000 micrograms of folic acid.
Iron is another important nutrient for pregnant women. It also can be found in prenatal vitamins.
- Iron helps the muscles in both mother and baby develop.
- It helps prevent anemia, a condition in which a woman’s red blood cells are too small and too few. Red blood cells carry oxygen around your body and to your baby.
- Iron can also lower the risk of preterm birth and low birthweight.
Calcium, also available in prenatal vitamins, helps keep bones and teeth strong for mom and baby.
- Calcium helps the nervous, muscular and circulatory systems stay healthy.
- When a pregnant woman doesn't get enough calcium from the foods she eats, the body takes the calcium from her bones to give it to her growing baby.
- Having less calcium in the bones can cause serious health conditions later in life, such as osteoporosis. In osteoporosis, the bones thin, and the person is at increased risk of bone breaks.
Docosahexaenoic acid, or DHA, is an omega-3 fatty acid. It helps to support the development and function of the baby's brain and eyes.
- Women should get at least 200 milligrams of DHA every day.
- It may be hard to find prenatal vitamins that have DHA in them. But some prenatal vitamins are packaged and sold with a separate bottle of DHA on the side.
Before taking any supplement, talk with your health care provider about whether you need it and, if so, how much you should take. Some supplements are dangerous during pregnancy. Also, large doses are sometimes risky. For instance, taking too much vitamin A during pregnancy can cause birth defects. Don't take more than 5,000 IUs (international units) of vitamin A per day.