Vitamins & supplements in pregnancy
Many women are advised to take supplements in pregnancy. We asked NHS midwife Carey Burt for her advice on what vitamins you need and why.
Can I get all the vitamins I need from my diet?
In theory, yes but in some cases it may not be possible. The demands of pregnancy can take a toll on your body, morning sickness may mean you eat less nutrient-rich food, and environmental pressures like stress may make it difficult for you to absorb vitamins. Taking a supplement allows you to be reassured you’re getting all you need.
Should I start taking vitamins before I conceive?
It makes sense to be as fit and healthy as you can be to aid your fertility before you even start trying for a baby, so get a good vitamin supplement to take before conception that contains Folic acid (see below).
What is Folic Acid and why should I take it?
This protects your baby from neural tube problems such as spina bifida. You should have 400ug (also called 400 mcg) of Folic acid each day; many pregnancy supplements include this, or you might take it separately.
Aim to take this for three months before you conceive and up to the 12th week of pregnancy (some studies suggest you keep taking it through your pregnancy1). Some women need 5mg (check with your doctor), available on prescription. Try to eat foods rich in folate like green leafy vegetables too, as natural folates are absorbed more easily by the body.
Why are Iron levels in pregnancy important?
Low Vit B12 and low levels of iron are causes of anaemia. Anaemia is when you don’t have enough healthy red blood cells to carry the oxygen you need around your body to your baby. You need at least 14.8 milligrams of iron supplements in pregnancy per day. B vitamins are important for neurological and cognitive development too. Iron is best taken with orange juice, as this aids absorption. Some liquid irons are more easily absorbed than tablets and cause fewer side effects.
Do I need Vitamin D?
This helps regulate calcium and phosphate and in summer, you can get it just from exposing skin to sunlight. It’s advised to take a supplement between October and March and there’s some evidence it may help protect against Covid-19, though there’s not yet enough evidence to support this. The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) says all pregnant and breastfeeding women should take Vitamin D in pregnancy to help your baby’s skeleton grow properly. It may also help avoid the risk of some allergies.
Should I take Omega 3 while pregnant?
Omega 3 is found in cod liver oil, oily fish or flax oils and is a rich source of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), which helps with eye and brain development. Your baby’s brain develops particularly rapidly from 28 to 40 weeks, so you should be taking Omega 3 whilst pregnant.
What about calcium supplements?
This helps build teeth and bones, helps muscles such as the heart contract, and aids the blood to clot normally. You need 700mg per day.
How does Iodine help?
Iodine helps you produce hormones, including thyroid, that regulate your baby’s brain and nervous system development. Your needs increase during pregnancy to ensure you get enough for your baby too. You should aim for 140mcg per day.
Why do I need Vitamin C?
This helps protect your immune system, cells and those of your baby, creates collagen, helps wounds to heal and maintains connective tissue. It’s also very important as it helps you absorb iron. Take 50mg per day, as your body can’t store it.
Is it safe to take Vitamin A while pregnant?
Vitamin A helps strengthen your immune system and that of your baby, keeps the skin healthy and aids eyesight. But be aware that you should never have more than the recommended daily dose (100mgc per day) as that can be harmful.