A well-balanced diet will supply most of the nutrients you need, with the following two exceptions:
Folic acid: This important nutrient helps reduce the risk of serious brain and spinal-cord birth defects (called neural tube defects) during pregnancy. It's also essential to support your baby's rapid growth. In fact, a 2002 study of Swedish women suggested that folic acid may even reduce the risk of early miscarriage. If you're pregnant now, your doctor has probably already prescribed a prenatal multivitamin that contains folic acid. But you can continue to integrate this essential nutrient into your diet by eating foods such as fortified cereals, leafy green vegetables, and citrus fruits. Planning a pregnancy? Start taking a multivitamin that contains folic acid, and eat foods rich in this important nutrient.
Iron: Your need for this crucial mineral doubles during pregnancy, from 15 to 30 milligrams daily to prevent anemia. It's especially important to take a 30-milligram supplement each day during the last two trimesters of your pregnancy, when the fetus is growing rapidly and maternal blood volume increases. Late in pregnancy, your baby is also storing iron for use in the early months of life.
Now that you're expecting, eating right is doubly important -- and it's easy to do. Following a smart diet plan and taking your daily multivitamin are the best ways to ensure a healthy pregnancy for you and your baby.
Dr. Schwarz, obstetrical consultant to the March of Dimes, is past president of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists; Vice Chairman for Clinical Services, Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Maimonides Medical Center; and Emeritus Distinguished Service Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology, SUNY Downstate Medical Center, both in Brooklyn.
Originally published in American Baby magazine, March 2004.