Also known as folate, folic acid is a type of B vitamin that’s an important part of cell production. It is found in leafy greens, such as spinach and kale, and many grain products, including certain cereals and breads, are fortified with folic acid.
Women need folic acid throughout life, but it’s critical before and during pregnancy. Folic acid helps prevent a group of infant health conditions called neural tube defects, which affect the brain and spine; spina bifida is the most common. Folic acid also has beyond-the-bump benefits: It keeps your skin, hair and nails healthy before, during and after pregnancy. A combination of diet and prenatal vitamins can help you get the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s recommended 400 micrograms of folic acid per day.
Another key component of pregnancy nutrition is vitamin D, which helps babies build bones and prevents congenital rickets (weak bones). The nutrient also promotes bone health in expectant mothers, as well as a healthy immune system, muscles and nerves. Vitamin D can be absorbed through sun exposure and foods—such as salmon, cheese (cooked or pasteurized) and egg yolks (ensure they are fully cooked). Some foods, including cereal, milk and orange juice, are fortified with vitamin D. To get the recommended 600 international units during pregnancy, however, a supplement may be necessary.