Choosing a Multivitamin Before Pregnancy
It is especially important for women who can become pregnant to get enough folic acid. Folic acid, a B vitamin, helps prevent birth defects of the brain and spinal cord when taken before and very early in pregnancy. It is available in most multivitamins, as a folic acid-only supplement and in some foods.
The March of Dimes recommends that all women of childbearing age take a multivitamin with 400 micrograms of folic acid every day, as part of a healthy diet.
During pregnancy, a woman needs more of some nutrients, such as iron, calcium and folic acid. For this reason, it is wise to start taking a multivitamin before pregnancy.
How to Choose a Multivitamin
Read the label. The label tells you which vitamins and minerals the multivitamin contains. It also tells you how to take the multivitamin safely and how to store it.
Most multivitamins typically contain about 20 vitamins and minerals, including:
- Vitamin A
- Vitamin B6
- Vitamin B12
- Vitamin C
- Vitamin D
- Vitamin E
- Vitamin K
- Folic acid
- Riboflavin (Vitamin B2)
- Thiamin (Vitamin B1)
Most multivitamins contain at least 100% of the daily value (DV) for nearly all vitamins, but they usually don’t contain 100% of the DV for minerals. (The DV is the amount of a vitamin or mineral that a person should consume every day. The Food and Drug Administration sets the daily values for the United States.)
- Be sure the multivitamin contains 400 micrograms of folic acid.
- Don’t expect a multivitamin to provide 100% of the DV of calcium. That much calcium would make the tablet too large to swallow. To get enough calcium, eat food rich in calcium such as milk, yogurt, cheese and broccoli. Or talk to your health care provider about taking a calcium supplement along with a multivitamin.
Avoid high doses. Some vitamins and minerals are toxic in high doses for women and their developing babies. Examples are iron, chromium, selenium and vitamin A. To avoid high doses, choose a multivitamin that contains no more than 100 percent of the DV for each vitamin and mineral. Before taking anything other than 100% of the DV, check with your health care provider.
Look for USP on the label. This means that the multivitamin meets the standards of U.S. Pharmacopeia (USP). USP is an organization that sets standards for content, quality, purity and safety.
Know about name brands and store brands. As you shop, remember that name brands may be no better than store brands. In fact, the same manufacturer may make both of them. Store brands often cost less than name brands. The most important thing is to check the label to be sure you are getting the vitamins and minerals you need. Although health care providers often write prescriptions for prenatal vitamins, you can get some brands of these vitamins at the drugstore without a prescription.
Know about natural and synthetic vitamins. In multivitamins, natural and synthetic vitamins have the same health benefit. Natural vitamins cost more than synthetic vitamins.
Avoid extras. Avoid multivitamins that contain herbs, enzymes or amino acids. You don’t need them and they add cost. Herbal remedies can be toxic. Never take them if you are trying to get pregnant, are pregnant or are breastfeeding. Many vitamin products contain extra ingredients such as herbs that are not considered essential under federal guidelines. Medical scientists do not know if these extra ingredients are safe and effective, especially during pregnancy.
Check the expiration date. Multivitamins can lose potency, especially in heat and humidity. An expiration date tells you when to buy a new bottle and throw away the old one. Buy only multivitamins that have an expiration date on the label.
Store your vitamins in a place that will help you remember to take one every day. Examples:
- On a kitchen counter or table
- Next to where you leave your wristwatch or jewelry you wear every day
Choose a place that is cool and dry. Avoid storing vitamins in bathroom medicine cabinets. Multivitamins can lose their strength when stored in places that are warm and damp.
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