During pregnancy, eating a healthy and varied diet will help you to get most of the vitamins and minerals that you need. You can find more about How to Eat Well During your Pregnancy by clicking to our blog here (opens in new tab). You will however need to take some supplements during pregnancy to ensure you get all the nutrients that you and your need. Let’s take a look at the supplement recommendations from the Department of Health and Social Care.
Supplement Recommendations During Pregnancy
In the UK, there are recommendations (opens in new tab) for daily supplements to take during (& before!) pregnancy, including:
- 400 micrograms of folic acid
- 10 micrograms of vitamin D
What is folic acid?
Folate is a B vitamin which is found in some food. The man-made form is called folic acid. Folic acid is a vitamin that helps your baby’s neural tube to grow. The neural tube is part of babies nervous system.
Why take folic acid?
Evidence shows that taking folic acid supplements reduces the risk of your baby developing spina bifida and other conditions that affect their spine and neural tube.
What are the recommendations?
- Take a folic acid supplement providing 400 micrograms daily
- Eat a diet rich in folates.
When to take folic acid?
- If you are planning a pregnancy, from 3 months before becoming pregnant – If you did not take folic acid before you conceived, you should start as soon as you find out you’re pregnant.
- Continue to take folic acid for the first 12 weeks of pregnancy.
By 12 weeks your baby’s neural tube has already grown, so taking folic acid after this point will not help your baby’s development. However, some pregnancy multivitamins (including Healthy Start vitamins (opens in new tab)) include folic acid and it’s fine to continue to take this throughout your pregnancy.
Food sources of Folic Acid (Folate)
While some foods contain the natural form of folic acid (folate) it’s still advisable to take a daily folic acid supplement, even if you regularly include these foods in your diet.
- Spinach, kale, brussel sprouts, cabbage, broccoli*
- Beans and legumes (e.g. peas, backeye beans)
- Yeast and beef extracts
- Oranges and orange juice
- Wheat bran and other whole grain foods
- Poultry, pork, shellfish
- Fortified foods (e.g. breakfast cereals, check the label).
Top Tip *Reduce the loss of folic acid from vegetables by steaming or microwaving instead of boiling.
What is vitamin D?
Vitamin D is made from sunlight on our skin and is also found in some foods. Most of our vitamin D is made from late March/early April to the end of September. If you are in the sun, do take care to protect your skin and always follow sun safety guidance (opens in new tab).
Why take vitamin D?
Vitamin D regulates the amount of calcium and phosphate in the body, which are required to keep bones, teeth and muscles healthy. A lack of vitamin D can cause bones to become soft and weak. This can lead to rickets in children and osteomalacia in adults.
What are the recommendations?
- All pregnant women should take 10 micrograms daily
- It’s recommended that all adults consider taking a 10 micrograms supplement daily especially if you are at risk of deficiency (opens in new tab)
- If you’re breastfeeding, you should consider taking 10 micrograms daily.
When to take vitamin D?
- Throughout your pregnancy
- When breastfeeding
- All adults are recommended to take supplements in the winter months. So if you are planning a pregnancy or have just had a baby it’s recommended to take one. Also if you are at risk of deficiency (if you have dark skin you may also not make enough vitamin D from sunlight, are not often outdoors, usually wear clothes that cover up most of your skin when outdoors).
Food sources of Vitamin D
It’s difficult to get enough vitamin D from foods alone which is why there is a recommendation to take a supplement. Some foods that do contain vitamin D include:
- Oily fish
- Red Meat
- Fortified foods (e.g. breakfast cereals, check the label)
Other supplement recommendations during pregnancy
Alongside vitamin D and folic acid your midwife or GP may make recommendations for to you take additional supplements alongside a healthy balanced diet during pregnancy.
In pregnancy, the amount of blood in your body increases by almost 50%. If you do not have enough iron, you may become short of red blood cells, anaemia, and you’ll probably feel very tired. Your doctor or midwife will find out whether you have anaemia through your routine antenatal blood tests. If you do not have anaemia, you do not need to take an iron supplement. Food sources of iron include pulses, meat, green leafy vegetables, dried fruit, and nuts. You can check out our blog How to Eat Well During Your Pregnancy (opens in new tab) for lots of top tips on how to include iron rich foods in your diet.
What about supplement recommendations during pregnancy for vegetarians and vegans?
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, vitamin B12 and iodine. You can find more information on planning vegetarian and vegan meals from the NHS here (opens in new tab). Do also speak to a healthcare professional such as you midwife or pharmacist to discuss your requirements.
Good sources of vitamin B12 for vegetarians include milk, cheese and eggs.
Good sources for vegans include:
- breakfast cereals fortified with vitamin B12
- unsweetened soya drinks fortified with vitamin B12
- yeast extract, such as Marmite, and nutritional yeast flakes which are fortified with vitamin B12
Good sources of iodine for vegetarian women include cow’s milk, dairy products and eggs. Iodine can also be found in plant foods, such as cereals and grains, but the levels vary depending on the amount of iodine in the soil where the plants are grown.
If you’re vegan then you may want to consider taking an iodine supplement or eating foods fortified with iodine, such as some types of plant-based drinks.
Are there any supplements to avoid?
If you choose to take a multivitamin supplement, it’s important to avoid the following:
- Supplements containing vitamin A (retinol)
- High- dose multivitamin supplements
- Fish liver oil supplements.
These should be avoided as they increase the risk of congenital malformations and miscarriage. 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 can also speak to your pharmacist to check if the supplements are suitable for halal and vegetarian diets.
Where to get pregnancy supplements?
You can get supplements from pharmacies and supermarkets, or a GP may be able to prescribe them for you. You can buy folic acid and vitamin D as individual supplements or from a multivitamin tablet. If choosing 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 (opens in new tab).
You may qualify for free pregnancy vitamins through the NHS Healthy Start scheme. If you do, you’ll also receive weekly food vouchers, worth £4.25 (from the 10th week of your pregnancy).
You’ll qualify for the scheme if you are at least 10 weeks pregnancy and receive any of the following:
- Child Tax Credit (only if your family’s annual income is £16,190 or less)
- Income Support
- Income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance
- Pension Credit (which includes the child addition)
- Universal Credit (only if your family’s take-home pay is £408 or less per month from employment)
You will also be eligible for Healthy Start if:
- You’re under 18 and pregnant, even if you are not claiming any benefits
- You claim income-related Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) and are over 10 weeks pregnant
- You or your partner get Working Tax Credit run-on only. (Working Tax Credit run-on is the Working Tax Credit you receive in the 4 weeks immediately after you have stopped working for 16 hours or more per week)
To learn more about the NHS Healthy Start scheme, including how to apply, visit the NHS website here (opens in new tab).
Universal Free Healthy Start Vitamins
In some areas, Healthy Start vitamins are free to all families, so it’s a good idea to contact your midwife to find out if they’re free where you live.
For example, the London Borough of Newham provides free vitamins to all pregnant and breastfeeding women and children under the age of 4. If you live in Newham, you’re able to collect free vitamins from Health Visiting and Maternity Services and at your local Children’s Centre. You can find details for Newham’s Children’s Centres here! (opens in new tab)
Eating Well During Pregnancy Online Course
You can also find additional information on how to eat well during your pregnancy, by signing up to our FREE online course here (opens in new tab).