Eating a healthy, varied diet in pregnancy will help you to get most
of the vitamins and minerals you need, but when you are pregnant you will probably need to take some supplements as well.
You can get supplements from pharmacies and supermarkets, or your GP 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).
Do not take vitamin A supplements, or any supplements containing vitamin A (retinol), as too much could harm your baby.
It’s recommended that you take these particular supplements in pregnancy:
Folic acid is a B vitamin that is found in some foods as well as in supplement form. If you have enough folic acid around the time you conceive your baby, then there’s less risk of your baby being born with neural tube defects such as spina bifida.
All women who could become pregnant are advised to take a
supplement of 400μg (micrograms) of folic acid each day. When you do become pregnant, continue to take the supplement each day for the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. If you’ve just found out you are pregnant and had not been taking folic acid supplements, start them right away and continue to take them until the 12th week of pregnancy.
Folic acid supplements are available over the counter in pharmacies and some supermarkets. If you take folic acid as part of a multivitamin supplement, make sure that it contains 400μg (micrograms) of folic acid. Folic acid is also found in green vegetables, brown rice, orange juice and some breakfast cereals
(check the label). You can boost your folic acid by eating foods like these.
But you’ll still need to take a supplement to get the full amount you need while you’re pregnant.
If you are short of iron, you’ll probably get very tired and may suffer from anaemia. You need extra iron when you’re pregnant to make new blood cells for your developing baby. Be sure to eat iron-rich foods regularly throughout your pregnancy.
Lean red meat is the best source of iron in the diet. Other good sources are chicken and turkey – especially the dark meat – and oil rich fish. Liver has lots of iron too, but you should avoid eating it
while you’re pregnant because it has very high levels of Vitamin A.
Other foods that contain iron are:
- wholegrain bread
- dried fruit
- green vegetables
- some breakfast cereals (check the
Having some salad vegetables, citrus fruits or a glass of fruit juice with your meals will boost your iron absorption. Some women are advised by their doctor to take iron supplements during pregnancy.
Speak to your doctor if you have a history of heavy periods, have been anaemic in the past or if you’re vegetarian or vegan.
You need extra calcium in your diet during pregnancy. This is to allow your developing baby’s bones to grow and develop, while looking after your own bones too. Dairy foods like milk, cheese and yoghurt are the best sources of calcium. Pregnant women should have five servings of dairy foods each day. One serving is a glass of milk, a carton of yoghurt (125g) or a matchbox-sized
piece of cheese. Avoid unpasteurised dairy products, soft mould-ripened cheeses like Camembert or Brie, and all blue-veined cheese because of the risk of Listeria food poisoning which is dangerous for pregnant women.
Other foods that have some calcium are:
- Green leafy vegetables (like broccoli or cabbage)
- Tinned fish where the bones can be eaten (like sardines or salmon)
- Soya products
- Baked beans
- Calcium-enriched juice drinks, breads or breakfast cereals (check the labels) 4 Vitamin D
In the UK women who are pregnant or breastfeeding are advised to take supplements containing 10 micrograms of vitamin D each day. Vitamin D is only found in a small number of foods – in fact we get most of our Vitamin D from the sun.
Fish and omega fats
Omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids are important for the developing
baby’s brain and eyes. You’ll find these fatty acids in:
- Oil-rich fish (like herring, mackerel, sardines, salmon, trout)
- White fish (like cod, plaice, whiting)
- Some vegetables oils (rapeseed, canola, flaxseed, linseed, walnut)
So when you’re pregnant, aim to eat two portions of fish each week, one of which is oil-rich. Some types of fish such as shark, marlin and swordfish (and to a lesser degree tuna) can contain levels of mercury that are too high for your unborn baby. So during pregnancy, you should note the following:
- Include a maximum of two portions of oily fish in the week
- Avoid shark, swordfish and marlin
- Limit tuna to four tins per week, or two tuna steaks per week
Vegetarian, vegan and special diets in pregnancy
A varied and balanced vegetarian diet should give enough nutrients for you and your baby during pregnancy. However, you might find it hard to get enough iron and vitamin B12. Talk to your midwife or doctor about how to make sure you are getting enough of these important nutrients.
If you are vegan (you cut out all animal products from your diet), or you follow another type of restricted diet because of food intolerance (for example, a gluten free diet for coeliac disease) or for religious reasons, talk to your midwife or GP. Ask to be referred to a dietitian for advice on how to make sure you are getting all the nutrients you need for you and your baby.
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