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Q: When should I begin taking a prenatal vitamin?
A: Start three months before you begin trying to get pregnant, if possible. “The egg starts maturing about three months before it’s released, and it’s critical that the proper nutrients are present during the earliest stages,” says OB-GYN and reproductive endocrinologist Robert Greene, M.D., F.A.C.O.G., a fertility specialist at cny Fertility center in Syracuse, N.Y.
“Neural-tube defects [such as spina bifida] happen in the first four to six weeks of pregnancy,” says Sudeep Kukreja, M.D., associate director of the neonatal intensive care unit at Children’s Hospital of Orange County in Orange, Calif. If you think you’re pregnant and are not taking a supplement, don’t wait until your first appointment for a prescription because you will have missed this crucial developmental period. Start taking an over-the-counter folic acid supplement with 600 micrograms right away.
Q: Which vitamins and minerals are most important and why?
A: “The three most important nutrients, based on very good research, are folic acid, iron and calcium,” says Kukreja. Folic acid helps prevent neural-tube defects; iron is important for the delivery of oxygen to the baby and prevents anemia in the mom; and calcium helps build your baby’s bones and prevents bone loss in the mother.
Q: Are all prenatal vitamins pretty much the same?
A: No. Prescription vitamins are regulated by the Food and Drug administration, but they’re not required to contain certain nutrients. “There are many different formulations available, with different concentrations of each nutrient,” says Kukreja. Some have a little of everything; others contain only a handful of nutrients. If you have special health considerations, your OB may suggest a supplement with added nutrients to meet your needs.
Q: What should I do if I have morning sickness and am throwing up?
A: “Try to take the vitamin before you go to bed at night, so you can sleep through the nausea,” says Bronx, N.Y.-based OB-GYN Ashlesha Dayal, M.D.