If you're pregnant or trying for a baby, you may be wondering if you need to take any vitamins or supplements to keep both mum and baby healthy throughout your pregnancy and beyond.
Family GP Dr Roger Henderson looks at what pregnancy vitamins or supplements to take and when to take them to ensure a health pregnancy:
What are prenatal vitamins?
Prenatal vitamins are natural supplements that pregnant women can take in order to help their bodies have enough of the vitamins and minerals that are needed for a healthy pregnancy. Eating a healthy and varied diet will allow you to get most of the vitamins and minerals you need, but it can be helpful to take a prenatal vitamin to fill any gaps in your diet as well as taking a supplement before you get pregnant. The following vitamins are recommended during pregnancy:
If you are pregnant, or if there is a possibility you may become pregnant, the current advice is that you should take a supplement of folic acid every day from before becoming pregnant through to the 12th week of pregnancy. The usual recommended dose is 400 micrograms (0.4mg) a day. Folic acid is essential because it can help to reduce the risk of any problems in the development of your baby in the early weeks of pregnancy, including birth defects such as spina bifida.
Some women may require a higher dose of folic acid - a 5mg strength – which is available on prescription from your doctor. People that may require this include:
Those with a family history of spinal cord defects.
Those with a neural tube defect, or if the father has a neural tube defect.
Those taking medication for epilepsy.
Women with previous pregnancies affected by spinal cord problems.
Women who are obese.
Women who have diabetes, sickle cell disease, celiac disease, anaemia or thalassaemia.
Those on anti-retroviral treatment for HIV.
Although the best advice is to start taking folic acid before becoming pregnant, if the pregnancy is unplanned simply start taking it as soon as you know you are pregnant.
Folic acid is found in foods such as green leafy vegetables and potatoes, and some breads and breakfast cereals are fortified with it. You can buy folic acid from a pharmacy, or you may be able to get them free if you qualify for the Healthy Start scheme. If you want to get your folic acid from a multivitamin, make sure the tablet does not contain vitamin A (or retinol).
Vitamin D is needed for healthy growth – it helps keep muscles, bones and teeth healthy - and supplements are now recommended for all pregnant and breastfeeding women, and breastfed babies. Recent studies have also suggested that having good levels of vitamin D in pregnancy may lower the risk of your baby developing asthma in childhood. Lower levels have also been linked to increased levels of infection in babies.
Pregnant and breastfeeding women should take 10 micrograms (400 units) of vitamin D every day but if you are exposed to very little sunshine or are dark skinned you may require a higher dose of 20 micrograms daily.
Vitamin D is also found in some foods such as oily fish, eggs and red met, and is added to some breakfast cereals and non-dairy milk alternatives. You can get vitamin D supplements free if you are pregnant or breastfeeding and qualify for the Healthy Start scheme, otherwise your pharmacist can advise you on the best vitamin D supplements to take.
Iron helps your body make red blood cells and these carry oxygen to the developing baby. Iron is found in foods such as green leafy vegetables, lean meat, nuts and dried fruits as well as some fortified breakfast cereals.
If you have low iron during pregnancy you may feel very tired, and become anaemic and your doctor may prescribe iron tablets. If you start to feel excessively tired or you have any concerns, ask your GP for advice.
Vitamin C is found in a variety of fruit and vegetables and if you are eating a balanced diet you may not need to take a vitamin C supplement. Good sources of vitamin C include berries, citrus fruits, broccoli, sprouts and potatoes. If you want to use a supplement, aim for one that contains 70mg of vitamin C daily.
Which pregnancy vitamin should you take?
Instead of individual vitamins to address your needs, you might choose to take a pregnancy supplement which contains multiple vitamins and minerals.
There are a number of good supplements available from the pharmacy but if you're not sure which one to take, a good all-round balanced one should contain the following:
400 IU of vitamin D
70mg of vitamin C
10mg of vitamin E
6mcg of vitamin B12
400 mcg of folic acid
200 mg of calcium
3mg of thiamine
17mg of iron
2mg of riboflavin
Your pharmacist or doctor can advise you if you have any queries about it. Some pregnant women can find that they feel slightly nauseous when taking prenatal vitamins, and in such cases chewable or liquid forms can be helpful.
Research has found that taking multivitamins may not be necessary during pregnancy, as eating a healthy and varied diet will allow you to get most of the vitamins and minerals you need. However folic acid and vitamin D are essential. If you’re not sure speak to your midwife or health advisor.
Last updated: 22-02-2021
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