Last updated December 2011. Planned review date: December 2012
Supplements to take during pregnancy
Now that you are pregnant there are some supplements you can take that will help improve your growing baby's health and development.
Folic acid is a vitamin that helps in the early formation of your baby's nervous system. Lack of folic acid can cause spina bifida, where the baby's spine and nerves do not form properly in the womb. Some foods contain folic acid naturally (it's called folate when it's in food), such as broccoli, green beans, oranges, chickpeas and brown rice; and some breakfast cereals have folic acid added. But food won't give you enough folic acid to protect your baby, so it's important to take a folic acid supplement every day (400mcg) in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy (and pre-conception).
Vitamin D protects your baby from the bone disease rickets. It's found naturally in some foods such as eggs and oily fish, and is sometimes added to breakfast cereals and margarine. The main source of vitamin D is produced in our skin after being in the sun (not sunbathing!) – just 15 minutes in the sun, two or three times a week will be enough. If you have dark skin, or always cover your skin, or if it's winter, you will be more likely to need a vitamin D supplement. Current recommendations are for all pregnant women to have a 10 micrograms (10mcg) supplement of vitamin D each day. Ask your midwife or GP for more information.
Iron is found in red meat, pulses (beans), bread, green vegetables and some breakfast cereals.
If you're eating food containing iron, try to have some food or drink containing vitamin C (such as sweet potatoes, peppers or a glass of orange juice) at the same meal and avoid tea and coffee at meal time to help your body absorb iron.
If your body is low in iron your doctor or midwife may advise you to take iron supplements.
Visit our Frequently asked questions about diet and weight in pregnancy page for more information.
Czeizel AE (2009) Periconceptional folic acid and multivitamin supplementation for the prevention of neural tube defects and other congenital abnormalities, Birth Defects Research, Part A: Clinical and Molecular Teratology, 2009, Apr;85(4):260-8.
Thacher TD, Clarke BL (2011) Vitamin D insufficiency, Mayo Clinic Proceedings, 2011 Jan;86(1):50-60.
NHS Choices [accessed Dec 2012] The pregnancy care planner, pregnancy and labour, Vitamins and nutrition in pregnancy http://www.nhs.uk/planners/pregnancycareplanner/pages/vitaminsmineralsdiets.aspx
Department of Health (1991) Dietary reference values for food, energy and nutrients for the United Kingdom, 1991, London HMSO
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