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Key Vitamins

During pregnancy, a mother's need for several vitamins increases to support growth of both maternal and fetal tissues. Vitamins are substances that are required in very small amounts for specific metabolic tasks. Since vitamins cannot be made by the body, they must be acquired from the diet and/or supplements. Vitamin needs during pregnancy are usually met by a well-balanced and varied diet, but a few of these nutrients require special attention.

What are they?
Vitamins that require extra attention during pregnancy include folate, vitamin B12, vitamin C, vitamin D, and vitamin A. Here is a summary of what's currently known about these nutrients, along with a few good food sources. The best way to maximize your intake of vitamins is to get them from foods. High doses of vitamin supplements can interfere with absorption of other nutrients and, in extremely high doses, some nutrients increase risks of birth defects.

Vitamins in Pregnancy
Folate During pregnancy, folate plays a primary role helping cells to multiply in the developing fetus and protecting against maternal anemia. A deficiency of folate can result in neural tube defects. During early fetal development the tube that will encase your baby's brain and spinal cord closes. A neural tube defect occurs when this tube does not close properly. Adequate folate intake both before and during pregnancy is important for this process to occur correctly. As it occurs in the early weeks of pregnancy, often before a women knows she is pregnant, folate supplementation while preparing for pregnancy can reduce the risk of giving birth to a child with neural tube defects by 70%. For women who had a previous child with a known neural tube defect (NTD), the recommendation for folic acid intake is significantly higher and should be discussed with your doctor. Once pregnant, experts recommend all women consume 600 micrograms (mcg) of folate daily, through dietary sources, supplement or combination of both.
Vitamin B12 This vitamin, like folate, is required for cellular growth and nervous system development and is an important component to protect against maternal anemia. Deficiency of vitamin B12 is rare with a varied and well-balanced diet easily meeting the RDA of 2.2 mcg. However, women consuming a strict vegetarian diet may be at risk for inadequacy.
Vitamin C Vitamin C is necessary for proper wound healing, aiding iron absorption and development of connective tissue. As this vitamin is plentiful in the diet, it can be easily obtained through a varied diet rich in fruits and vegetables. The minimum Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) is 70 mg during pregnancy. Large intakes of vitamin C may adversely affect fetal metabolism and are not recommended.
Vitamin D Vitamin D is well established as an essential component to good calcium absorption and homeostasis. As fetal bones and teeth are developing during pregnancy, good vitamin D intake is important for adequate calcium absorption. The RDA for vitamin D during pregnancy is 400 I.U. and can be obtained from a diet rich in fortified dairy. Further, the body can produce its own vitamin D in the skin when there is adequate exposure to the sun's rays.
Vitamin A During pregnancy, vitamin A needs increase as it is required for normal growth and development of the fetus. Vitamin A is found in two main forms in the diet including retinol and beta-carotene. Retinol is found in dietary supplements, fortified foods and is particularly high in animal products containing liver or fish liver oils. Beta-carotene is one of the substances responsible for the bright orange and yellow colors in many fruits and vegetables and is also found in fortified foods. The current RDA for pregnant women is set at 800 REs (2,700 I.U.). Excess intakes of vitamin A in the retinol form, greater than 3,000 REs (10,000 I.U.), have been shown to cause birth defects and should be avoided. By consuming a diet plentiful in fruits and vegetables with a wide variety of nutritious foods and limiting liver products and retinol containing supplements, you can safely achieve adequate intakes of this vitamin.

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