Finding out you are pregnant can be such an exciting and exhilarating time – but can also be quite confusing too. All parents-to-be want the best for their baby and often wonder if they need to take any extra vitamins or supplements to help their growing baby.
A healthy, varied diet with plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables should give you most of the vitamins and minerals you need. However, two vitamins folic acid and vitamin D are so important for your baby that you are advised to take supplements in pregnancy to be sure that you are getting the full amount you need.
Folic acid helps your baby’s neural tube grow. The neural tube is part of the baby’s nervous system and supplements have been shown to dramatically cut the risk of having a baby with spina bifida or other problems affecting the baby’s spine and neural tube.
It is recommended that all women take a folic acid supplement from three months before conception up to at least 12 weeks of pregnancy.
Most women will need to take 400 micrograms of folic acid each – but for some women may need to take a bigger dose of 5 mg of folic acid. This can be prescribed by GPs if you are planning a pregnancy or are in the early stages of pregnancy and if you:
- (or the baby’s father) have had spina bifida
- have had a previous baby with spina bifida
- (or the baby’s father) have a family history of neural tube defects
- have diabetes
- have a high Body Mass Index (over 30)
- are taking medication for epilepsy
Vitamin D is found naturally in some foods and we also get vitamin D from sunlight. Sadly because of the lack of sunlight and our long winters, most of us don’t end up getting enough vitamin D. Without it, there is a risk that your child will have soft bones, which can lead to rickets (a disease that affects bone development in children).
All pregnant women are advised to take a 10 microgram supplement of vitamin D each day to give your baby enough vitamin D for the first few months of life.
If you are eligible for Healthy Start vitamins, vitamin D is included. You can also buy Healthy Start vitamins at some GP clinics and vitamin D supplements cheaply at a pharmacy or supermarket.
You may be tested for vitamin D during your first midwife booking appointment. If you require additional vitamin D, your midwife will advise you of this.
Some women are more likely to need vitamin D than others. You may have an even higher risk of vitamin D deficiency if you:
- always cover your skin
- use high-factor sun block
- have dark skin
- have a BMI above 30.
Aside from folic acid and vitamin D, you should not need to take any other vitamins unless you have been advised by your midwife or doctor.
If your blood tests in pregnancy show that you are anaemic in pregnancy, then your doctor or midwife will prescribe an iron supplement. If they do not show this there is no need to take an iron supplement in pregnancy.
It is also important to not take vitamin A supplements, or any supplements containing vitamin A as too much could harm your baby and could cause birth defects.
If you decide to take a multivitamin tablet during pregnancy, make sure the tablet doesn’t contain vitamin A. Vitamin A that your body produces from beta-carotene does not increase the risk of birth defects.
It is also important to eat well, drink plenty of water and exercise in pregnancy – our antenatal classes cover lots of advice on what you should avoid doing in pregnancy and how to keep yourself well and healthy, as well as what to expect during labour and birth and in the postnatal period.