Which vitamins do you need during pregnancy?
The list of pregnancy dos and don'ts is long enough without worrying about which vital nutrients you aren't getting enough of. To keep it simple, here's all you need to know about taking vitamins when you're pregnant.
Do I need to take a vitamin supplement during pregnancy?
Current NHS advice is that if you're eating a healthy, balanced diet you should be getting most of the vitamins and nutrients you and your baby need. Hooray! However, you do need to ensure you're getting enough folic acid and vitamin D. The simplest way is to take a supplement, or a generic pregnancy multivitamin, which will contain both of these.
The market for pregnancy vitamins is pretty vast and can be confusing – so it's worth having a chat with your doctor or pharmacist, particularly if you take any other medication, or have been diagnosed with a vitamin deficiency in the past.
Most generic multivitamins will contain the correct amount of folic acid and vitamin D for pregnancy, but you should avoid the high dosage supplements (unless your doctor has advised you take the high dose), as well as any that include fish liver oil vitamin A, as these can affect your baby's development.
Which vitamins and minerals do I need during pregnancy?
Like an intestinal orchestra, each vitamin has its own role to play in the development of your baby, as well as in keeping you healthy while you're lugging an ever-growing bundle of joy around town. These are the ones you should be aware of during pregnancy.
Iron is essential for the creation of red blood cells, which take oxygen all around your body. A lack of iron in your diet can make you feel tired and weak, as your organs and cells won't be getting the oxygen they need – and that won't be good for your baby's development either. Low iron levels can also weaken your immune system and make you more susceptible to picking up bugs.
If you're concerned about your iron intake during pregnancy, speak to your doctor or midwife, who can test for anaemia and may prescribe you iron supplements. However, you should not take iron tablets unless advised to, as an excess of iron can impact on your baby's development.
- Leafy green vegetables (such as watercress and curly kale)
- Iron-fortified cereals and bread
- Brown rice, pulses and beans
- Nuts and seeds
- Red meat, fish and tofu
- Dried fruit, such as dried apricots, prunes and raisins
Vital for making your baby's bones and teeth, calcium also ensures your own bones are strong enough to ferry a baby about for nine months.
- Dairy – milk, cheese and yoghurt
- Green leafy vegetables (such as rocket, watercress and curly kale)
- Tofu, and soya drinks with added calcium
- Bread and anything made with fortified flour
- Fish where you eat the bones (such as sardines and pilchards)
Vitamin C is a bit of an all-around hero: it protects your cells – and your baby's – and keeps them healthy, as well as helping with tissue repair, iron absorption and recovery from infections.
It's one of the most widely available vitamins, found in lots of fruit and vegetables, so you should easily get enough with a balanced diet and a good multivitamin. However, you shouldn't take too much, as extended amounts of vitamin C have been linked to premature birth. You'd have to be seriously mainlining it for that to be the case though. A few oranges will be absolutely fine.
- Citrus fruits and juice
- Red and green peppers
- Strawberries and blackcurrants
- Broccoli, Brussel sprouts
Vitamin D regulates the amounts of calcium and phosphate in your body, which are needed to keep bones, teeth and muscles healthy – a deficiency can lead to you developing rickets (yep, even in this day and age).
The body makes vitamin D when exposed to sunlight, but given that sunshine is a bit of a rarity in the UK, and there's always the potential to get sunburn or sunstroke if you spend too much time in the sun without ample protection, the easiest way to ensure you're getting enough vitamin D is to take a supplement.
If you have dark skin or usually cover your skin when you're outside, you might be at increased risk of vitamin D deficiency. Talk to your doctor or midwife if you have any concerns.
- Oily fish (but you should limit your portions during pregnancy)
- Red meat
- Some breakfast cereals, fat spreads and non-dairy milk alternatives.
It's quite difficult to get enough vitamin D from your food, so do consider taking a supplement, or a multivitamin that contains the recommended 10mcg. If possible you should take a Vitamin D supplement throughout your pregnancy and while breastfeeding, too.
Also known as vitamin B9, it's recommended you take folic acid from when you start trying to conceive until the end of the first trimester of pregnancy, to help reduce the risk of your baby developing neural tube defects such as spina bifida.
Like vitamin D, it can be difficult to get your entire daily folic acid requirement from food alone, so you are strongly encouraged to take a supplement, but most generic pregnancy multivitamins will include the recommended amount.
- Green, leafy vegetables (like spinach and Brussels sprouts)
- Cruciferous vegetables (like broccoli)
- Potatoes and peas
- Granary bread, brown rice, fortified breakfast cereals and bread (check the packet)
- Tinned salmon
- Orange juice
Which vitamins should I avoid in pregnancy?
There are a few vitamins and minerals to avoid in pregnancy. Vitamin A and fish liver oil should be given a body swerve, as these contain high levels of retinol, which can affect your baby's development and potentially cause birth defects. For the same reason, liver and liver products like pate should be avoided too.
Check carefully that your multivitamin doesn't contain either vitamin A or fish liver oil. It's best to err on the side of caution and go for a dedicated pregnancy multivitamin, which won't have anything unsuitable in it.
If you have any concerns about your vitamin intake, don't hesitate to ask your doctor or midwife for advice.