Folic acid, a B vitamin, helps your body make healthy cells. It also plays an important role in preventing birth defects called neural tube defects (defects of the baby’s brain and spine). Most major birth defects of the brain and spine occur early in pregnancy, shortly after conception and often before a woman knows she is pregnant. Research shows that women who take 400 mcg of folic acid daily before and during pregnancy are less likely to have children with these serious birth defects.
Foods rich in folic acid include leafy green vegetables, citrus fruits, beans and legumes and many breakfast cereals and breads that are fortified with folic acid. The FDA requires that folic acid be added to enriched grain products, including breads, pasta and rice.
Vitamin D, found in fortified cereals and fish, is important during pregnancy and breastfeeding. It’s a powerful immune booster and helps prevent cancer, heart disease, arthritis, and depression in people with seasonal affective disorder, which may be linked to low levels of the vitamin.
A supplement of 1,000 IU is usually sufficient for most adults, but some people may need more. A doctor can test blood to determine whether vitamin D levels are healthy.
Research backs the power of fish oil for women in many different ways. It protects heart health by lowering triglycerides and slowing plaque buildup, which is especially important for women because they are more likely to have heart disease than men.
Pregnant and breastfeeding women need omega-3 fatty acids to support their baby’s brain and eye development. Studies show that consuming omega-3 fatty acids during pregnancy and while breastfeeding can also help reduce the risk of postpartum depression.