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Vitamins & supplements for pregnancy

Prenatal vitamins & supplements Added extra

SUMMARY

It may come as a surprise to learn that only two nutrients are recommended as supplements during pregnancy. Despite this, many women choose to take a prenatal multivitamin as back up for any nutritional shortfall in their diet. Learn which nutrients are in most pregnancy supplements, when they’re most helpful and why a well-balanced diet is the best possible source of nutrition.

To supplement or not?

Many mums-to-be assume they should be taking a prenatal multivitamin from the moment they become pregnant. In reality, food should be your main source of most of the vitamins and minerals needed to support you and your baby during pregnancy.

A varied, healthy diet is likely to provide many of the nutrients you need, as well as essential fibre, protein and energy.

“Supplements help to make up for any occasional nutritional shortfall but shouldn’t be used as a substitute for a well-balanced diet.”

A prenatal supplement that provides a variety of nutrients can be helpful during the early stages if morning sickness is making it difficult to keep food down. Later on, a prenatal multivitamin can help to ensure you’re getting the right balance of nutrients, even if your diet and appetite changes and fluctuates.

There are only 2 nutritional supplements that are recommended during pregnancy: folic acid and vitamin D.

Two essential prenatal vitamins

The two nutritional supplements that are recommended during pregnancy are folic acid and vitamin D1. Folic acid is recommended while you are trying to get pregnant, too.

  • Folic acid helps prevent neural tube defects such as spina bifida. You are advised to take 400mcg per day of folic acid from conception through to the 12th week of pregnancy1.
  • Vitamin D is needed for healthy bone growth. The most efficient source is sunlight on the skin but because the UK only receives sufficient UVB rays during the summer months, a 10mcg daily supplement is recommended year-round throughout pregnancy and whilst breastfeeding1.

Make sure your supplements are pregnancy-safe

During pregnancy, your nutritional needs change and certain nutrients can be harmful if taken in high doses.

To reduce any risks to you and your baby, always choose supplements that are made especially for pregnant women. Let your midwife know if you’re taking anything other than prenatal vitamins – even herbal remedies may not be advisable.

“If you choose not to take a prenatal multivitamin, you should take single supplements of folic acid and vitamin D.”

Food should be your main source of most of the vitamins and minerals needed to support you and your baby during pregnancy

What’s in a prenatal multivitamin?

The nutrient content of prenatal multivitamins varies between brands. However, most contain good levels of the following key nutrients for pregnancy:

  • Vitamin D – regulates calcium and phosphate, which are essential for your baby’s developing bones and teeth2
  • Omega 3 – supports your baby’s developing brain1 and nervous system and contributes to a healthy heart3
  • Folate/folic acid – helps prevent neural tube defects and is recommended until the 12th week of pregnancy1
  • Iron – a healthy supply is needed to support your increased blood volume and reduce your risk of iron-deficiency anaemia1
  • Vitamin B12 – helps the body process folic acid and is involved in releasing energy from food and making red blood cells4

If you are on a low income, you may qualify for the government’s Healthy Start scheme that entitles you to free supplements. Your midwife or GP will be able to give you more details.

View references

Hide references

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1. NHS UK. Vitamins and nutrition in pregnancy [Online]. 2013. Available at: www.nhs.uk/conditions/pregnancy-and-baby/pages/vitamins-minerals-supplements-pregnant.aspx [Accessed June 2014]

2. British Nutrition Foundation. Nutrition and Development, short and long-term consequences for health. London: Wiley Blackwell, 2013. p.38.

3. NHS UK. Fish and shellfish [Online]. 2013. Available at: www.nhs.uk/Livewell/Goodfood/Pages/fish-shellfish.aspx [Accessed June 2014]

4. NHS UK. B vitamins and folic acid [Online]. 2012. Available at: www.nhs.uk/Conditions/vitamins-minerals/Pages/Vitamin-B.aspx [Accessed June 2014]

Last reviewed: 18th August 2014
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