Eating a healthy, varied diet in pregnancy will help you get most of the vitamins and minerals you need.
But when you're pregnant, or there's a chance you might get pregnant, you should take a folic acid supplement.
It's recommended that you take:
- 400 micrograms of folic acid every day – from before you're pregnant until you're 12 weeks pregnant
This is to reduce the risk of problems in the baby's development in the early weeks of pregnancy.
The Department of Health and Social Care also advises you to consider taking a vitamin D supplement.
Do not take cod liver oil or any supplements containing vitamin A (retinol) when you're pregnant. Too much vitamin A could harm your baby. Always check the label.
You also need to know which foods to avoid in pregnancy.
Where to get pregnancy supplements
You can get supplements from pharmacies and supermarkets, or a GP may be able to prescribe them for you.
If you want to get your folic acid from a multivitamin tablet, make sure the tablet does not contain vitamin A (or retinol).
You may be able to get free vitamins if you qualify for the Healthy Start scheme.
Find out more about the Healthy Start scheme.
Folic acid before and during pregnancy
You should take a 400 micrograms folic acid tablet every day before you're pregnant and until you're 12 weeks pregnant.
Folic acid can help prevent birth defects known as neural tube defects, including spina bifida.
If you did not take folic acid before you conceived, you should start as soon as you find out you're pregnant.
You should also eat foods that contain folate (the natural form of folic acid), such as green leafy vegetables.
Some breakfast cereals and some fat spreads, such as margarine, may have folic acid added to them.
It's difficult to get the amount of folate recommended for a healthy pregnancy from food alone, which is why it's important to take a folic acid supplement.
Find out more about healthy eating in pregnancy.
Higher-dose folic acid
Some women have a higher chance of having a pregnancy affected by a neural tube defect and are advised to take a higher dose of 5 milligrams (mg) of folic acid each day until they're 12 weeks pregnant.
You may have a higher chance if:
- you or the baby's biological father have a neural tube defect
- you or the baby's biological father have a family history of neural tube defects
- you have had a previous pregnancy affected by a neural tube defect
- you have diabetes
- you take anti-epilepsy medicine
- you take anti-retroviral medicine for HIV
If any of this applies to you, talk to a GP. They can prescribe a higher dose of folic acid.
A GP or midwife may also recommend additional screening tests during your pregnancy.
Find out about epilepsy and pregnancy.
Vitamin D in pregnancy
It's important to take vitamin D as you may have been indoors more than usual this year.
You should take 10 micrograms (400 IU) of vitamin D a day between October and early March to keep your bones and muscles healthy.
There have been some reports about vitamin D reducing the risk of coronavirus (COVID-19). But there is currently not enough evidence to support taking vitamin D to prevent or treat coronavirus.
All adults, including pregnant and breastfeeding women, need 10 micrograms of vitamin D each day and should consider taking a supplement containing this amount between September and March.
Vitamin D regulates the amount of calcium and phosphate in the body, which are needed to keep bones, teeth and muscles healthy.
Our bodies make vitamin D when our skin is exposed to summer sunlight (from late March/early April to the end of September).
Vitamin D is also in some foods, including:
- oily fish (such as salmon, mackerel, herring and sardines)
- red meat
Vitamin D is added to some breakfast cereals, fat spreads and non-dairy milk alternatives. The amounts added to these products can vary and might only be small.
Because vitamin D is only found in a small number of foods, whether naturally or added, it is difficult to get enough from foods alone.
Most people in the UK will probably get enough vitamin D from sunlight and a healthy, balanced diet in the spring and summer, so you might choose not to take a vitamin D supplement during these months.
It's not known exactly how much time is needed in the sun to make enough vitamin D to meet the body's needs, but if you're in the sun take care to cover up or protect your skin with sunscreen before you start to turn red or burn.
You can get vitamin supplements containing vitamin D free of charge if you're pregnant or breastfeeding and qualify for the Healthy Start scheme.
If you have dark skin or always cover your skin
You may be at particular risk of not having enough vitamin D if:
- you have dark skin (for example, if you're of African, African Caribbean or south Asian origin)
- you don’t often expose your skin to the sun – for example, if you always cover your skin when outside or spend lots of time indoors
You may need to consider taking a daily supplement of vitamin D all year. Talk to a midwife or doctor if this applies to you.
Iron in pregnancy
If you're short of iron, you'll probably get very tired and may suffer from anaemia.
Lean meat, green leafy vegetables, dried fruit, and nuts contain iron.
If you'd like to eat peanuts or foods that contain peanuts (such as peanut butter) during pregnancy, you can do so as part of a healthy, balanced diet unless you're allergic to them or your health professional advises you not to.
Many breakfast cereals have iron added to them. If the iron level in your blood becomes low, a GP or midwife will advise you to take iron supplements.
Vitamin C in pregnancy
Vitamin C protects cells and helps keep them healthy.
It's found in a wide variety of fruit and vegetables, and a balanced diet can provide all the vitamin C you need.
Good sources include:
- oranges and orange juice
- red and green peppers
- brussels sprouts
Calcium in pregnancy
Calcium is vital for making your baby's bones and teeth.
Sources of calcium include:
- milk, cheese and yoghurt
- green leafy vegetables, such as rocket, watercress or curly kale
- soya drinks with added calcium
- bread and any foods made with fortified flour
- fish where you eat the bones, such as sardines and pilchards
Vegetarian, vegan and special diets in pregnancy
A varied and balanced vegetarian diet should provide enough nutrients for you and your baby during pregnancy.
But you might find it more difficult to get enough iron and vitamin B12.
Talk to a midwife or doctor about how to make sure you're getting enough of these important nutrients.
If you're vegan or you follow a restricted diet because of a food intolerance (for example, a gluten-free diet for coeliac disease) or for religious reasons, talk to a midwife or GP.
Ask to be referred to a dietitian for advice on how to make sure you're getting all the nutrients you need for you and your baby.
Find out more about healthy eating for vegetarian and vegan pregnant women.
Healthy Start vitamins
You may be eligible for the Healthy Start scheme, which provides vouchers to pregnant women and families who qualify.
The vouchers can be used to buy milk and plain fresh and frozen fruit and vegetables at local shops.
You can also get coupons that can be exchanged for free vitamins.
If you're not eligible for the Healthy Start scheme, some NHS organisations still offer the vitamins for free, or sell them. Ask a midwife about what's available in your area.
Video: Should I take supplements during my pregnancy?
In this video, a midwife explains which supplements you can take during pregnancy.
Media review due: 5 February 2023
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