What to look for when shopping for prenatal vitamins

First and foremost, congratulations on the big news! With a bundle of joy on the way, it may feel like you have an endless list of concerns before the baby arrives, but ensuring proper nutrition throughout your pregnancy should be your primary concern.

Doctors advise mothers-to-be to take prenatal vitamins throughout their pregnancies to fill any nutritional gaps in their diets that can prevent birth defects, low birth weight and other complications.

Even if you have an optimal diet, think of prenatal vitamins as an insurance policy to cover nutrients that are essential to a baby's development.

Best of all, if you or your spouse have a Flexible Spending Account (FSA), prenatal vitamins are FSA-eligible! Check out FSAstore.com to shop for thousands of qualifying 2014 FSA eligible items to foster the health and well-being of your growing family.

Don't know where to begin? Seek out the following nutrients when you decide to purchase prenatal vitamins for the first time.

Folic Acid

  • This nutrient is found in leafy green vegetables, nuts, beans and citrus fruits, and the FDA also requires flour products, such as breads, buns and bagels, must be fortified with extra folic acid. This ingredient is extremely important to prevent neural tube defects, which refers to a spine that is not fully developed. Because these defects can begin to develop just 28 days after conception, it's vital that mothers-to-be begin taking prenatal vitamins in the early stages of pregnancy.

Iron

  • Iron should be an essential nutrient in any mother-to-be's diet, as it assists both the mother and child's blood's ability to carry oxygen throughout the body. Iron deficiency is the chief cause of anemia, and can also lead to low birth weights, preterm delivery and infant mortality. In addition to vitamin supplements, iron is found in red meat, spinach and collard greens, egg yolks, beans and artichokes. Additionally, increased vitamin C consumption can help your body better absorb the iron in the foods you ingest.

Calcium

  • Bone density is a major concern for mothers, as the fetus will utilize this mineral to contribute to bone growth. As a result, expecting mothers should aim to improve their calcium intake during pregnancy to ensure the health and well-being of their baby, as well as helping to avoid bone density issues like osteoporosis later in life. Calcium is found in dairy products like milk, yogurt and cheese, as well as soybeans, sardines, spinach, kale, turnips and collard greens.

Zinc

  • As one of the nutrients responsible for the production, repair and functioning of DNA, as well as the formation of healthy cells, zinc is an extremely important mineral to look for when shopping for prenatal vitamins. Zinc supports proper immune system function and while zinc deficiencies are rare, they can result in low birth weights, miscarriage and other complications. Foods that are high in zinc include spinach, pumpkin seeds, cashews and white mushrooms.

Vitamin D

  • Last but not least, the importance of regular vitamin D intake during pregnancy has gained steam in recent years, as many studies point to the fact that the nutrient can prevent immune system disorders and other diseases. While the body produces this vitamin naturally from the absorption of sunlight, it can also be found in fortified milk products, fatty fish like salmon, mackerel and tuna, as well as eggs, mushrooms and oysters.

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