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Vitamin A helps to build your developing baby’s immune system, as well as helping them develop healthy skin and good vision1. Too much, however, can be harmful.
Why is vitamin A so important during pregnancy?
Vitamin A contributes to the development of one of the most intricate and extraordinary parts of your baby’s body – their eyes. It’s also important for their immunity and skin cell production1, as well as helping to develop the millions of tiny air sacs, called alveoli, in your baby’s lungs. These allow oxygen to transfer into the blood, and carbon dioxide to transfer back out2.
A healthy supply of vitamin A during pregnancy builds up your baby’s natural stores in preparation for the first few months of life3. A low level of vitamin A can affect your baby’s immune function after birth, leaving them more susceptible to infection and illness3.
Due to its supporting role in the immune system, vitamin A benefits your own health throughout pregnancy too4.
How much vitamin A do you need when you’re pregnant?
Getting the right amount of vitamin A during pregnancy is a bit of a balancing act. Too much can harm your developing baby and lead to birth defects1, while too little carries certain risks to you and your baby’s development5. If you aim to eat a healthy balanced diet, you should be getting all the vitamin A you need and should avoid taking any additional supplements containing it. A healthy intake will ensure your baby gets the nutritional support they need for normal development. And because it’s a fat-soluble vitamin, your body can build up stores of it in your liver, ready for when you need it. If you’d like any more advice, do speak to your healthcare professional.
Your Reference Nutrient Intake (RNI) of vitamin A in pregnancy – the amount considered to be enough to meet most people’s needs – is slightly higher than normal, at 100mcg per day6. Half a cup of raw carrots contains 459mcg of vitamin A, and half a cup of broccoli contains 60mcg of vitamin A7.
If you decide to breastfeed your baby, you shouldn’t need to make any special dietary changes but it’s a good idea to eat healthily. You can always talk to your midwife or healthcare professional if you’d like any more advice. Read more about a healthy breastfeeding diet.
While a healthy intake is important throughout your pregnancy, your risk of deficiency is higher during your third trimester when requirements increase due to your baby’s accelerated development and increased blood volume. Your body naturally prioritises your baby’s needs, which is why you need more4.
The good news is, you should be able to get all the vitamin A you need by enjoying a healthy, balanced pregnancy diet.
It’s worth noting that certain foods that are high in vitamin A, such as liver and liver pâté, are on the list of foods to avoid in pregnancy. Some vitamin supplements also contain high levels of vitamin A, such as cod liver oil, so should be avoided during pregnancy8.
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Vitamin A is found in dairy foods, oily fish and some fruit and vegetables, and comes in two forms:
Retinol – this form of vitamin A comes from animal-derived foods1. Good sources during pregnancy include:
Beta-carotene – responsible for giving certain fruit and vegetables their orange colour, your body can convert beta-carotene into vitamin A1. Good sources include:
- Sweet potatoes
Try increasing your intake with these vitamin A-rich snacks and meals:
- NHS. Vitamin A [Online]. 2017. Available at: www.nhs.uk/Conditions/vitamins-minerals/Pages/Vitamin-A.aspx [Accessed March 2020]
- Checkley W et al. Maternal vitamin A supplementation and lung function in offspring. N Engl J Med 2010;362(19):1784-1794.
- Azaïs-Braesco V, Pascal G. Vitamin A in pregnancy: requirements and safety limits. Am J Clin Nutr 2000;71(5):1325-1333.
- Van den Broek, N et al. Vitamin A supplementation during pregnancy for maternal and newborn outcomes. Cochrane Database Syst Rev 11, 2010.
- WHO. Micronutrient deficiencies [Online]. Available at: www.who.int/nutrition/topics/vad/en/ [Accessed March 2020]
- Department of Health. Dietary Reference Values for Food Energy and Nutrients for the United Kingdom. London:TSO, 1991.
- Medical News Today. Which foods are rich in vitamin A? [Online]. Available at: https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/324493 [Accessed March 2020]
- NHS. Can I take cod liver oil supplements when I’m pregnant? [Online]. 2018. Available at: www.nhs.uk/chq/Pages/1757.aspx?CategoryID=54&SubCategoryID=129 [Accessed March 2020]
Questions about feeding and nutrition?
Our midwives, nutritionists and feeding advisors are always on hand to talk about feeding your baby. So if you have a question, just get in touch.