Vitamins and supplements in pregnancy
How to support your pregnancy diet
Certain nutrients play particularly important roles in your baby’s development during pregnancy. To find out more about each one, simply click on the ones you’re interested in:
Vitamins and nutrients you need during pregnancy:
- Folic acid
- Vitamin D
- Iron and Vitamin C
- Vitamin B12
- Omega fats
- Prenatal vitamin supplement
- Vitamin A
Folic acid helps reduce the risk of birth defects such as spina bifida. So it’s recommended that you take it before you conceive, up until the end of your first trimester (12 weeks). As well as taking a folic acid supplement, it’s important that you eat a healthy, balanced diet. Foods like broccoli, cabbage, beans, brown rice, peas and oranges are rich in folates. So try adding them to your diet.
Vitamin D helps keep our bones, teeth and muscles healthy. Interestingly, our bodies make vitamin D when our skin is exposed to the summer sun. But because no one really knows how much sun is enough, taking a supplement containing 10 micrograms a day is recommended while you’re pregnant and breastfeeding.
Iron and Vitamin C
Iron is one of the key nutrients you need throughout pregnancy. It’s important for carrying extra oxygen around in your red blood cells, and your baby needs it for their developing brain. If you don’t have enough iron, you’ll run the risk of becoming anaemic, which will leave you feeling tired, washed out and generally unwell. So make sure you eat plenty of iron-rich foods such as red meat, fish, eggs, dried fruit, wholegrain breakfast cereals and bread, and green leafy vegetables. Your midwife may also suggest taking an iron supplement. It’s best if you eat iron-rich foods or take your iron supplement with vitamin C. So have a glass of fruit juice with your cereal or some fresh fruit as a starter to your main course. Other foods that contain vitamin C are tomatoes, broccoli, peppers and potatoes.
Getting enough omega 3 fatty acids during pregnancy is important, as they help your baby’s nervous system to develop healthily – and help to keep your own heart healthy too! Omega 3 fats are also important for the development of your baby’s brain and nervous system. Oily fish like sardines, mackerel and salmon are all rich sources of omega 3 fatty acids. But you shouldn’t have more than two portions a week, as the fish can also contain mercury, which can be harmful to your baby in high levels. Seeds such as pumpkin and flax are another source of omega 3 – aim for about two tablespoons a day.
Prenatal vitamin supplement
Prenatal vitamin supplements are designed to help you get the right balance of nutrients recommended for a healthy pregnancy, including folic acid and iron. If you choose to take a supplement, make sure it’s one tailored to conception and pregnancy, as regular multivitamins may contain potentially high levels of the vitamins you should be avoiding. And remember, they’re not a replacement for eating a healthy, balanced diet, which will give your baby the best start in life.
Vitamins B12 for vegetarians
Vitamin B12 helps to keep the nervous system healthy and is mainly found in meat, eggs and dairy products. Vegetarians may need to take a vitamin B12 supplement. If you’re unsure, ask your midwife who should be able to help you.
Foods such as pâté and liver sausage are good sources of iron. But they can also contain very high levels of vitamin A, which can harm your baby if you have a lot of it.
That’s why the Department of Health recommends that pregnant women should avoid liver and liver products. You should also be aware that some vitamin supplements are high in vitamin A, so always choose a safe pregnancy supplement. Your midwife will be able to help you with this.
The good news is that most pregnant women will get all the vitamin A they need from beta-carotene. This is found naturally in fruit and vegetables like red, yellow and orange peppers, spinach, carrots, mangoes, apricots and melons.