Supplements to Take During Pregnancy and When
The shelves of your local pharmacy or supermarket might be laden with pregnancy supplements, but do you need to take them, and when?
Here we will look at the essential supplements that every pregnant woman should take and those that many women choose to take in addition to a healthy diet.
Folic acid is an essential supplement for pregnancy.
Many healthcare providers must recommend that you begin taking folic acid while trying to conceive.
What is Folic Acid?
Folic acid is a synthetic version of vitamin B9 or folate.
It is used in non-pregnant patients to treat anemia and is often prescribed alongside strong medications for other chronic diseases.
A folic acid supplement is strongly recommended in pregnancy because it helps the baby's brain, spinal cord, and skull develop properly. It has also been shown to reduce the risk of neural tube defects, including spina bifida.
Although folate is found in green leafy vegetables and some cereals that have added folic acid, it is difficult to get the recommended amount from your diet alone. This is why supplementation is recommended.
How Much Folic Acid Should I Take?
Folic acid is usually taken for at least the first 12 weeks of pregnancy.
If your baby is at low risk of neural tube defects, you should take 400 micrograms each day.
If your pregnancy has a higher risk of neural tube defects, a higher dose of 5mg each day is recommended.
Another vitamin that is strongly recommended in pregnancy is vitamin D.
Vitamin D is known as the sunshine vitamin because exposing our skin to sunlight helps the body to produce vitamin D. However, with many of us now using effective sunblock, covering up our skin, or spending more time indoors, vitamin D deficiency is common.
Low vitamin D levels can also be more common in people with darker skin, as the skin absorbs less UV sunlight.
Ten micrograms (400 IU) of vitamin D should be taken each day throughout your pregnancy.
Many people choose to continue taking vitamin D after giving birth.
A wide range of pregnancy multi-vitamins is available to purchase. In the UK, some women will be given multi-vitamins for free to support their baby's development throughout the pregnancy.
A pregnancy multi-vitamin will contain the vitamins and minerals to complete a healthy diet. However, if you are eating well, you may not feel that you need additional supplementation.
Supplements to Avoid
It might be tempting to take a standard multivitamin during pregnancy. However, care must be taken as traditional preparations will often contain vitamin A. Supplements containing vitamin A should not be taken in pregnancy, as high levels of vitamin A can cause harm to your baby.
Although a portion of oily fish is recommended each week as part of a healthy pregnancy diet, cod liver oil supplements should be avoided. This is because the liver contains high concentrations of vitamin A.
Improved health outcomes have been seen when women at risk of certain health conditions take specific supplements.
The supplements that have been proven to be beneficial include calcium for pre-eclampsia, iron for anemia in pregnancy, and vitamin D for preterm births. You should speak to your doctor or midwife to see whether you could benefit from specific supplementation.
Some supplements such as folic acid and vitamin D are strongly advised during pregnancy.
Taking additional supplementation may complement and boost your healthy diet if you choose to take additional supplementation. However, to prevent harm to your baby, you must avoid supplements that contain vitamin A.
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Vitamins, supplements and nutrition in pregnancy
Vitamins and supplements in pregnancy
Christina Oh, Emily C. Keats, and Zulfiqar A. Bhutta
Vitamin and Mineral Supplementation During Pregnancy on Maternal, Birth, Child Health and Development Outcomes in Low- and Middle-Income Countries: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis