The choice of supplements to keep you and your baby healthy can be confusing. Read our guide for which vitamins you do or don't need and how to get enough.
Eating a healthy, varied diet in pregnancy will help you get most of the vitamins and minerals you need (NHS Choices, 2017a). But as well as munching on those blueberries and grabbing some avocado toast for lunch, you might be thinking about getting some supplements.
Which vitamins should I take in pregnancy?
When you’re pregnant, it’s recommended that you take additional vitamin D and folic acid, and avoid taking vitamin A (retinol) (BDA, 2016; NHS Choices, 2017a). Aim for 400mg of folic acid and 10mcg of vitamin D from your supplements (BDA, 2016; NHS Choices, 2017a). For more on pregnancy supplements and nutrition if you're vegan or vegetarian, see our article about what to eat during pregnancy.
Why do I need folic acid in pregnancy?
Folic acid (also known as vitamin B9), plus vitamin B12, is needed to form red blood cells (BDA, 2016).
"Folic acid is important for pregnancy because it can help to prevent neural tube defects, including spina bifida (NHS Choices, 2017b)."
The neural tube is a structure in the embryo that later develops into the baby’s brain and spinal cord. Taking folic acid before you conceive and while you're pregnant might prevent up to seven out of 10 cases of neural tube defects (NHS Choices, 2017b).
What dose of folic acid do I need during pregnancy?
The recommended dose of folic acid for non-pregnant adults and children over 11 years old is 200 mcg (BDA, 2016; NHS Choices, 2017). You can get this from eating a healthy, varied diet.
Pregnant women, however, should take an additional 400 mcg of folic acid, which is where the supplements come in. Eating foods that are rich in folic acid is encouraged as well (BDA, 2016; NHS Choices, 2017).
Which foods are high in folic acid?
You can get folic acid in broccoli, peas, kale, brussel sprouts, oranges and brown rice (BDA, 2016). It’s also added to some breakfast cereals.
Watch out for folic acid being lost when you cook vegetables. Boil for as little time as possible or steam or microwave instead (BDA, 2016). For more about what to eat and what not to eat when you're pregnant, see here.
Can I overdose on folic acid?
Most women shouldn’t take more than 1mg of folic acid a day. Some women who are at a higher risk of having babies with neural tube defects might benefit from up to 5mg a day (Kennedy and Koren, 2012; NHS Choices, 2017a).
Family history of or previous pregnancies with neural tube defects, diabetes, and taking anti-epileptic medication when you're pregnant raise your risk of having babies with neural tube defects. If you are at higher risk, talk to your GP or midwife as they can prescribe a higher dose and/or recommend additional screening tests (NHS Choices, 2017a).
Why is vitamin D important in pregnancy?
Vitamin D regulates the amount of calcium and phosphate in the body (NHS Choices, 2017c). These nutrients keep your bones, teeth and muscles healthy.
All adults need 10mcg of vitamin D a day (NHS Choices, 2017c). Vitamin D is especially important in pregnancy so you should consider taking a supplement to make sure you’re getting enough.
Which are the best vitamin D foods and sources?
Our bodies make vitamin D when our skin is exposed to sunlight between March and September (NHS Choices, 2017a). If you have dark skin or always cover your skin when outside, talk to your midwife or doctor as you may not get enough.
You can find vitamin D in foods like oily fish (salmon, mackerel, herring and sardines), eggs and red meat. For more on how much and which fish it's safe to eat during pregnancy, see here. As vitamin D is only present in a few foods, supplements can be useful (NHS Choices, 2017a).
Can you overdose on vitamin D?
Vitamin D is unlikely to be harmful even in large doses. The recommended upper limit of daily vitamin D intake for adults is 1 mg (American Pregnancy Association, 2015).
Why is taking vitamin A bad for pregnant women?
Vitamin A, also known as retinol, helps your body’s natural defence against illness, as well as your vision and your skin. When you are pregnant, do not take vitamin A supplements or supplements containing vitamin A (British Nutrition Foundation, 2018). Too much could cause birth defects (NHS Choices, 2017d; British Nutrition Foundation, 2018).
If you decide to take a multivitamin tablet during pregnancy, make sure the tablet doesn’t contain vitamin A. You also need to avoid choosing liver or liver paté because these are very high in vitamin A (NHS Choices, 2017d). For more on foods to avoid during pregnancy, see here.
Vitamin A that your body produces from beta-carotene does not increase the risk of birth defects (Tetralogy Society, 1987; Strobel et al, 2007).
Do I need an iron supplement in pregnancy?
Right now, iron supplements are recommended if pregnancy blood tests show that the mother is anaemic. They’re not routinely offered to pregnant women because of potential side effects (NHS Choices, 2013).
You should be able to get all the iron you need from your diet, in things like leafy vegetables or red meat (NHS Choices, 2013).
Where can I get pregnancy vitamins?
You might be eligible for free vitamins through the Healthy Start scheme (Healthy Start, 2018). If not, folic acid or pregnancy multivitamin tablets are available from pharmacies and supermarkets. Your GP might also be able to prescribe them.
Where can I find out more about sources of iron and folic acid?
Check out the BDA’s food fact sheet about iron to see how you can get enough of it (BDA, 2017). The Association of UK Dieticians have also published an overview of all of the natural sources of folic acid (BDA, 2016).
This page was last reviewed in March 2018
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