Vitamin and Supplements in Pregnancy

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Eating a balanced diet before and during pregnancy will ensure you are getting most of the vitamins and minerals you need to support the healthy development of your unborn baby. The NHS recommends two supplements are taken during pregnancy: folic acid and vitamin D.

Folic acid before and during pregnancy

When you are pregnant or planning for a baby, it is recommended that you take 400 micrograms of folic acid every day from 12 weeks before you are pregnant, until week 12 of your pregnancy. Folic acid is a vitamin that helps with the development of a baby’s neural tube, the neural tube is an important part of baby’s nervous system and is vital for the development of organs in a growing baby.

Taking folic acid every day reduces the chance of your baby developing spina bifida and other conditions that affect their neural tube and spine.  A higher dose of folic acid may be required if any of the following apply to you:

  • You have diabetes
  • You take anti-epilepsy medications
  • You take antiretroviral medications for HIV
  • 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

Your midwife or GP will be able to advise you if you should take higher doses of supplements for you and your baby to fully benefit from them.

Vitamin D during pregnancy

Alongside folic acid, it is recommended that you take a daily vitamin D supplement of 10 micrograms during pregnancy. We all need vitamin D – it helps our bodies to absorb the right amount of calcium and phosphate. During pregnancy, it is particularly important for the baby as it helps with the development of bones, teeth, and the kidneys, heart and nervous system. Taking 10 micrograms daily provides your baby with enough vitamin D to last the first few months of life.
If you choose not to take a supplement of vitamin D during pregnancy there is a risk that your baby may be born with soft bones and in the worst case could lead to rickets (a disease that affects bone development in children).

People at risk of a vitamin D deficiency

Some women and pregnant people are in greater need of vitamin D as they are more likely to be deficient. These people may:

  • rarely go outside
  • always cover their skin
  • use high-factor sunblock
  • have dark skin
  • have a BMI above 30.

If any of the above criteria applies to you, it is recommended a vitamin D supplement is taken daily to avoid deficiency and possible developmental risks to your growing baby.

Where can I purchase vitamins/supplements?

If you are eligible for free Healthy Start vitamins, both vitamin D and folic acid are included in these. Otherwise, most pharmacies and supermarkets have a selection of cheaply priced supplements available. Check the dosage is correct before purchasing and ask your midwife/GP or pharmacist for help if you are unsure.

Healthy Start vitamins

The Healthy Start scheme provides pregnant people and families with children under four, who are on qualifying benefits or tax credits, to receive money towards some healthy foods including milk, infant formula, fruit and vegetables.

Young children may not get enough vitamin A and D even if they are eating well. If you are pregnant or breastfeeding you may not get enough vitamin C, vitamin D or folic acid. Families can get these important vitamins for free by using the NHS Healthy Start card.

The vitamins available do not contain milk, egg, gluten, soya or peanut residues, and they are suitable for vegetarians and halal diets.

How do I get my free vitamins?

The Healthy Start scheme provides pregnant people and families with children under four, who are on qualifying benefits or tax credits, to receive money towards some healthy foods including milk, infant formula, fruit and vegetables.

Young children may not get enough vitamin A and D even if they are eating well. If you are pregnant or breastfeeding you may not get enough vitamin C, vitamin D or folic acid. Families can get these important vitamins for free by using the NHS Healthy Start card.

The vitamins available do not contain milk, egg, gluten, soya or peanut residues, and they are suitable for vegetarians and halal diets.

Are there any supplements I need to avoid?

We know that high intakes of vitamin A should be avoided during pregnancy as it can have harmful effects on your baby’s development. Multivitamins containing vitamin A and cod liver oil supplements should also be avoided during pregnancy. If you are unsure about a particular supplement or dosage, it is best to check with your midwife or GP.
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