Eating a healthy, varied diet will help you to get all the vitamins and minerals you need while you are pregnant. There are some vitamins and minerals that are especially important:
Folic acid is important for pregnancy as it can reduce the risk of neural tube defects such as spina bifida. If you are thinking about getting pregnant, you should take a 400 microgram folic acid tablet every day until you are 12 weeks pregnant. If you did not take folic acid before you conceived, you should start as soon as you find out that you are pregnant.
You should also eat foods that contain folic acid, such as green leafy vegetables, fortified breakfast cereals and brown rice. Some breakfast cereals, breads and margarines have folic acid added to them. If you already have a baby with spina bifida, or if you have coeliac disease or diabetes or take anti-epileptic medicines, ask your family doctor or midwife for more advice. You will need to take a bigger dose of folic acid.
You need vitamin D to keep your bones healthy and to provide your baby with enough vitamin D for the first few months of their life. Vitamin D regulates the amount of calcium and phosphate in the body, and these are needed to help keep bones and teeth healthy.
Deficiency of vitamin D can cause children’s bones to soften and can lead to rickets. You should take a supplement of 10 micrograms of vitamin D every day. Only a few foods contain vitamin D, including oily fish like sardines, fortified margarines, some breakfast cereals and taramasalata.
The best source of vitamin D is summer sunlight. The amount of time you need in the sun to make enough vitamin D is different for every person and depends on things like skin type, time of day and time of the year. But you don’t need to sunbathe: the amount of sun you need to make enough vitamin D is less than the amount that causes tanning or burning.
If you have dark skin or always cover your skin, you may be at particular risk of vitamin D deficiency. Talk to your midwife or doctor if you are worried about this.
If you are short of iron, you will probably get very tired and you can become anaemic. Lean meat, green, leafy vegetables, dried fruit and nuts all contain iron. Many breakfast cereals have iron added. If the iron level in your blood becomes low, your GP or midwife will advise you to take iron supplements. These are available as tablets or a liquid.
You need vitamin C as it may help you to absorb iron. Citrus fruits, tomatoes, broccoli, peppers, blackcurrants, potatoes and some pure fruit juices are good sources of vitamin C. If your iron levels are low, it may help to drink orange juice with an iron-rich meal.
Calcium is vital for making your baby’s bones and teeth. Dairy products and fish with edible bones like sardines are rich in calcium. Breakfast cereals, dried fruit such as figs and apricots, bread, almonds, tofu (a vegetable protein made from soya beans) and green leafy vegetables like watercress, broccoli and curly kale are other good sources of calcium.
It is best to get vitamins and minerals from the food you eat, but when you are pregnant you will need to take some supplements as well:
- 10 micrograms of vitamin D throughout your pregnancy and if you breastfeed.
- 400 micrograms of folic acid – ideally this should be taken from before you get pregnant until you are 12 weeks pregnant. If you are vegetarian or vegan, you may need to take a vitamin B12 supplement as well as other supplements. Talk to your doctor or midwife about this.
If you have a special or restricted diet, you may need additional supplements. Talk to your doctor or midwife about this. Do not take vitamin A supplements, or any supplements containing vitamin A, as too much could harm your baby.
You can get supplements from pharmacies and supermarkets or your family doctor may be able to prescribe them for you. If you want to get your folic acid or vitamin D from a multivitamin tablet, make sure that the tablet does not contain vitamin A (or retinol).
Healthy Start vitamins for women contain the correct amount of folic acid and vitamin D. Ask your doctor or pharmacist for advice if you are unsure. Your primary care trust and local pharmacies may sell this supplement to women who don’t receive it free.
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