Whether you’re pregnant or trying for a baby, you’ve probably given some thought to taking some supplements. But, whether you’ve heard something on the grapevine, read something in a book or seen something on a video, it’s probably fair to say you’re a bit confused. After all, you have enough to worry about as it is, let alone having to decide what supplements you should take. That’s why we’ve come up with a bit of a quick start guide to help simplify things for you. So here you go, a guide on which vitamins to take before, during and after pregnancy.
Folic acid is one you’ve likely heard already, and if not, you’ll probably hear it mentioned again. The NHS recommends you take 400 micrograms of folic acid every day from before pregnancy until you are 12 weeks pregnant. If you weren’t taking folic acid before finding out you were pregnant, you should start as soon as possible.
Taking folic acid can help prevent the risk of birth defects in the early stages of the baby’s development. These are also known as neural tube defects and include things such as spina bifida. You can find folic acid in leafy green vegetables, breakfast cereals and fat spreads. However, it isn’t easy to get the recommended amount solely from food, which is why a supplement is advised.
Suppose you have diabetes, had a previous pregnancy impacted by a neural tube defect, take anti-epilepsy medicine or take anti-retroviral treatment for HIV. In that case, it may be suggested you increase your folic acid dosage. Equally, if you or the baby’s biological father have a neural tube defect or a history of them in the family, you may be advised to increase your folic acid dosage. But, again, you should speak to your doctor if this relates to you.
As mentioned above, for the first 12 weeks, it’s suggested that you continue with a folic acid supplement to reduce the risk of issues in the baby’s development.
It is advised that you ensure you get your suggested dose of vitamin D each day. The recommended amount is ten micrograms a day from the NHS. Our bodies can produce vitamin D from sun exposure, which can be difficult during most of the year in the UK. If you hope to top up your vitamin D from the sun, it’s vital to safeguard against sunburn.
Vitamin D controls the amount of phosphate and calcium in our body; this helps to maintain healthy bones, teeth and muscles. Oily fish, eggs, red meat, some breakfast cereals and some fat spreads contain vitamin D, but they only have small quantities. So if you’re struggling to reach your vitamin D target, a supplement is the best way to hit your target. Just be careful not to exceed 100 micrograms a day.
Another possible supplement to use during pregnancy is iron. Insufficient amounts of iron can lead to tiredness and possibly anaemia. If iron levels in your blood become low, your GP or midwife will likely advise you to use an iron supplement. Food sources of iron include lean meat, dried fruit, nuts and leafy green vegetables.
It is essential to consume sources of calcium, which is crucial in the creation of your baby’s teeth and bones. Calcium can be found in dairy products (milk, cheese, yoghurt), tofu, leafy green vegetables, bread and other foods with fortified flour and soya drinks with added calcium.
Finally, vitamin C protects cells, keeping them healthy and is a powerful antioxidant, supporting the immune system. It is easy to hit your vitamin C levels through food. Some sources of vitamin C include citrus fruits (e.g. oranges and orange juice), potatoes, strawberries, broccoli and red and green peppers.
After your child’s birth, it is crucial to maintain the suggested vitamin D levels mentioned above (10 micrograms). In addition, if your baby is only being given breast milk and not formula, it’s highly recommended that you give your child a vitamin D supplement.
The NHS strongly advises not to consume cod liver oil or any supplement containing vitamin A during pregnancy. Too much vitamin A, also known as retinol, can harm your baby; you must always check the label. Also, you should be aware of the foods you should avoid during pregnancy. You can find an NHS guide here. If you aren’t sure, you should always consult your GP or midwife for information.
These are just some recommendations and are not necessarily specific to everyone. It’s essential to eat a varied and healthy diet when pregnant to help you get the most vitamins and minerals. Your GP or midwife may also suggest other supplements depending on your situation. If you are unsure or have any special requirements, it’s important to speak to your doctor about taking any supplements.