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Do Prenatal Vitamins Help a Baby's Development?

During the nine months that your baby is growing inside of you, how you eat and your lifestyle choices can make or break its health. Even though eating a nutritious, well-rounded diet is a must, taking prescribed prenatal vitamins can benefit fetal growth, according to the American Pregnancy Association. A prenatal vitamin supplement can aid in the development of every part of your baby's body — from her bones to her brain.

Your Baby's Brain

Neural tube defects lead to birth defects such as spina bifida and other brain and spinal abnormalities, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. A prenatal vitamin that supplies 400 micrograms of folic acid can help lower the risk of neural tube defects. Women who have had an NTD-affected pregnancy and are planing to become pregnant again should talk to their doctors about how much folic acid to take and when, notes the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The August 1991 U.S. Public Health Care Service guideline recommended that such women take 4,000 micrograms per day from one month prior to getting pregnant through the the first three months of pregnancy, according to the CDC.

Building Bones

The calcium in a prenatal vitamin helps babies grow healthy bones. The U.S. recommended daily allowance of calcium for pregnant women 24 years of age and older is 1,200 milligrams, according to the Cleveland Clinic, and for women under age 24 the RDA is 1,200 to 1,500 milligrams. "If you do not consume enough calcium to sustain the needs of your developing baby," the Cleveland Clinic says, "your body will take calcium from your bones, decreasing your bone mass and putting you at risk for osteoporosis."

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Oxygen Action

Iron in prenatal vitamins helps your blood and your baby's blood to carry oxygen throughout your bodies, according to the Cleveland Clinic. "Iron is also necessary for growth, development, normal cellular functioning, and synthesis of some hormones and connective tissue," the National Institutes of Health explains. Pregnant women should get 27 milligrams of iron each day, according to the NIH. You can do this with a combination of prenatal vitamins and a diet rich in lean meat, seafood, nuts, fortified grains and beans.

Maximizing Development

All prenatal vitamins are not equal. The American Pregnancy Association recommends talking to your doctor before taking a prenatal supplement. Even though these vitamins can boost your baby's development, they must be taken in the recommended amounts to work properly. If you don't get enough of essential elements such as calcium or iron in your prenatal supplements your baby can't benefit from the vitamins, On the other hand, overdoing it is risky and may actually harm your growing baby.

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