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Taking vitamin D & folic acid during pregnancy helps your baby develop healthily

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Getting babies healthy and active from birth gets them off to the best start

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Super supplements - vitamin D and folic acid during pregnancy

Don’t forget to take your vitamin D and folic acid to help your baby develop a healthy brain and body.

Sometimes it can be hard to make sure you get all the vitamins and nutrients you need for a healthy pregnancy. But along with eating a healthy diet, vitamin D and other supplements like folic acid can do the trick. Vitamin D and folic acid help the growth of your baby’s bone and brain development.

Supplements aren’t meant to be a substitute for a healthy diet, but they can help to make sure your baby’s not missing out.

You can also ask your GP, midwife or pharmacist about supplements – folic acid can be free with a prescription.

Vitamin D

All pregnant and breastfeeding women are advised to take a daily vitamin D supplement of 10 micrograms. Vitamin D regulates the amount of calcium in the body, which helps to keep bones and teeth strong and healthy. This also provides your baby with enough vitamin D in their first few months.

All pregnant and breastfeeding women, particularly teenagers and young women, are at risk of vitamin D deficiency. But you’re more at risk if:

  • You’re not exposed to much sun, for example, you cover up your skin, are housebound, or confined indoors for long periods
  • You’re of South Asian or Caribbean descent, or have darker skin, because your body does not produce as much vitamin D in response to sunlight

Where can I get vitamin supplements?

You can get vitamin supplements from the following places:

  • Your GP (pregnant women qualify for free prescriptions)
  • Pharmacists, who can offer advice on the products for sale over the counter

If you’re in any doubt about taking vitamin supplements during your pregnancy or while you are breastfeeding, speak to your GP or another health professional such as a pharmacist.

Warning: If you’re pregnant, you should avoid supplements and multivitamins containing vitamin A (retinol) –– as too much of it can harm your baby’s development. You should also avoid liver and liver products (including fish liver oil), as they are high in vitamin A.

Folic acid

Folic acid is a man-made form of folate, a B vitamin that occurs naturally in food. Folic acid is very important for the development of your unborn baby and can help reduce the risk of neural tube defects (NTDs), such as spina bifida. Many people with spina bifida will have some paralysis and need aids to help them to walk or will need to use a wheelchair. It can also affect the nerves controlling the bowel and bladder. 

Most people get enough folate from eating a healthy, balanced diet. However women who are pregnant or planning a pregnancy are advised to take a daily 400 microgram (µg) folic acid supplement until the 12th week of pregnancy. Women who have had a previous NTD-affected pregnancy, or have a history of spina bifida or similar conditions in their family (or that of the baby’s father), need to take 5 milligrams (mg) of folic acid every day until the 12th week of pregnancy. In addition, women who have diabetes and those taking anti-epileptic medicines should consult their doctor.

It’s still important to eat a healthy, balanced diet that includes folate-rich foods, such as granary bread, beans and pulses, and green vegetables such as broccoli and spinach. Look out for the symbol on some breads and breakfast cereals which shows they’re fortified with extra folic acid.

Find out more about eating healthily while you’re pregnant.

Folic acid supplements are widely available in pharmacies, health food shops and supermarkets, and cost as little as under £1 for a month’s supply. You can also get them free on prescription from your GP. It doesn’t matter which brand of folic acid supplement you choose – just make sure each tablet contains 400 micrograms of folic acid. You’ll only need to take one tablet a day.

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