Getting pregnant can be an overwhelming experience. Above everything, you want to make the right decisions that will allow your baby to grow healthily. Eating a variety of nutritious foods is especially important when you are pregnant because the food you eat will provide the nutrients your baby needs. You can get most of what you need from a balanced diet, however, there are some supplements to be aware of to ensure your body has what it needs to support your baby.
Folic acid can help prevent birth defects known as neural tube defects (a deformed spine). It’s difficult to get the amount of folate recommended for a healthy pregnancy from food alone, which is why it’s important to take a folic acid supplement. It’s recommended to take a 400 micrograms (ug) folic acid tablet as soon as you decide to have a baby, until you’re 12 weeks pregnant. If you did not take folic acid before you get pregnant, you should start as soon as you find out.
Some women have a higher chance of having a pregnancy affected by a neural tube defect and are advised to take a higher dose of 500 micrograms (ug) of folic acid each day until they’re 12 weeks pregnant. It’s important to speak with your GP or midwife to find out the right dose for you.
Vitamin D is important to help absorb calcium and phosphate, for healthy bones, teeth, and muscles. Vitamin D deficiency is common in the UK as it is only found in a small number of foods, and mostly comes from our skin being exposed to sunlight in the summer months. All adults, including pregnant and breastfeeding women, need 10 micrograms (ug) (or 400IU (International Units), of vitamin D each day, and should consider taking a supplement containing this amount between September and March.
Few foods contain Vitamin D. The flesh of fatty fish (such as salmon, tuna, and mackerel) and fish liver oils are among the best sources. Small amounts of vitamin D are found in beef liver, cheese, and egg yolks.
I am vegetarian / vegan / follow a special diet, do I need anything else?
A varied and balanced vegetarian diet should provide all that you need for a healthy pregnancy. You might find it more difficult to get enough iron and B12, and your health professional should regularly measure your iron stores during pregnancy and will advise on supplementation should you need it. If you’re vegan or you follow a restricted diet because of health or religious reasons, talk to a midwife, GP, or ask to be referred to a Dietitian.
Are there any vitamins to avoid?
Be careful not to take too many supplements or you may end up taking toxic amounts that could be damaging to your and your baby. You shouldn’t be taking supplements or multivitamins which contain vitamin A (retinol) as this can be toxic for your baby in high doses and harm their development. You should also avoid liver, and liver products (including fish liver oil) that are high in Vitamin A. Always check the label.
This blog series is meant for educational purposes only and does not constitute medical or nutritional advice or act as a substitute for seeking such advice from a qualified health professional. In order to make the blog series easier to read, I have used a conversational tone in many places with personal pronouns, such as “I” and “you.” This is meant only to make it more pleasant to read, and is not meant to imply that the information constitutes any form of advice, whether personal or general.