Unsure which supplements you should or shouldn’t be taking during pregnancy? Nutritionist Stephanie has all the answers.
There is a growing body of evidence linking maternal nutrient intake during pregnancy to fetal health through childhood and into adulthood. So it’s no surprise that mums-to-be feel the pressure to eat the best for their baby. But when you have little energy to cook, fell nauseous and quite frankly want nothing more than a takeaway or some biscuits, should we be turning to supplements to make up for any nutritional shortfalls in our diet?
Below are some key supplement info pregnant ladies should know about…
1. Folic acid is the synthetic form of folate, which occurs naturally in foods such as spinach, greens, broccoli, beans and lentils. Sufficient amounts of this B vitamin are key for preventing certain birth defects such as spina bifida. Pregnant women can easily fall short of their folate needs because our bodies do not store it readily, needs increase during pregnancy and many women simply do not eat enough folate-rich foods. Even if you eat a lot of these foods, the NHS recommends women trying to conceive and up until the end of their 12th week of pregnancy take 400mcg/day of folic acid as a supplement.
2. Most people know vitamin D is needed for healthy teeth and bones, but research has also linked it to healthy immune and neural function, cell growth and controlling inflammation. The rate at which a baby’s skeleton grows during pregnancy means a mother’s intake is important. But there are few foods containing vitamin D (e.g. liver, egg yolks, oily fish) and our other main source, sunlight, is limited in this country, so many people are deficient. The NHS therefore recommends all pregnant and breastfeeding women take 10mcg/day of vitamin D. Make sure you choose a supplement containing vitamin D3 rather than D2 as this is more effective in the body.
3. Omega 3 fats are ‘essential’, which means they can only be obtained from the diet. Unfortunately important omega 3 fats EPA and DHA, needed for fetal and infant brain, retinal and neural growth and development, immune function and heart health, are mainly found in oily fish (e.g. salmon, mackerel, sardines), which pregnant women are advised to limit during pregnancy due to potential pollutants. Taking a pregnancy-safe omega 3 supplement, especially as the fetal brain accrues 50-70mg of DHA per day in the final trimester, may be a good idea, particularly for women who do not eat oily fish. However, speak to your GP or midwife first as omega 3 supplements are contraindicated for certain conditions and alongside certain medications. If you do choose to take one, make sure it is safe for pregnancy and contains both DHA and EPA. Recommended product: Zita West Vital DHA
4. Contrary to popular belief, your baby is not a parasite. The Journal of Nutrition says: ‘When maternal nutrient intakes fall below optimum levels, fetal growth and development are compromised more than maternal health.’
So to meet both of your nutritional needs you first and foremost should focus on an unprocessed and varied diet containing protein (e.g. fish, chicken, meat, lentils, beans), complex carbohydrates (e.g. wholemeal bread, pulses, brown rice), beneficial fats (e.g. olive/coconut oil, avocado, raw nuts and seeds, oily fish) and fresh fruit and vegetables.
If you are finding it difficult to include all these nutrient groups in your diet (e.g. due to nausea or lack of appetite for these foods), then taking a quality antenatal supplement throughout pregnancy may help to keep you topped up with key vitamins and minerals. Bear in mind the following though:
- If your antenatal supplement already contains folic acid and vitamin D, you do not need to take them separately as well.
- Make sure it does not contain vitamin A as retinol (this includes fish liver oil) as in high doses it may cause harm to the baby. Vitamin A as beta-carotene is fine.
- Read the supplement label clearly and make sure you take the correct dose. Usually supplements should be taken with food.
- Some good quality brands you might consider include Biocare, Viridian, Zita West and Lamberts.
5. If you are suffering from a specific pregnancy-related condition, improving your intake of certain nutrients may help to lessen your symptoms – taking an antenatal supplement is an easy way to do this. For instance, low levels of zinc or omega 3 fats may be implicated in antenatal depression; low levels of vitamin C or chromium in gestational diabetes and low levels of certain B vitamins and calcium in pre-eclampsia. Vitamins and minerals work in synergy, so taking them as a complex is safer and may be more effective than as single nutrients. Speak to your GP or midwife for more information.
6. Some pregnant women require additional nutrients anyway, such as vitamin B12 or iron, depending on their own health history and lifestyle. It is important not to self-diagnose a deficiency, but rather speak to your GP or midwife if you suspect you may be deficient so they can properly test your levels. Certain nutrients, such as iron, can build up in the body when taken as a supplement, and may do more harm than good to you and your baby.
7. More is not better. Remember that taking more supplements or higher doses than those found in pregnancy-approved products is not a good idea as they may be harmful. Research into supplement usage by pregnant women is restricted by its ethical nature, so it is always best to err on the side of caution and only take supplements approved for use during pregnancy.
Still unsure? Discuss it with your GP or midwife, who knows your own medical history and should be able to advise you more appropriately. For more pregnancy-related nutrition info please visit Nourish To Flourish or see Stephanie’s previous post on Top tips for healthy eating in pregnancy.
Always speak to your GP or midwife for supplement advice during pregnancy. The recommendations above do not replace professional medical advice. Neither Stephanie Ridley, Nourish to Flourish or Kiddicare accept legal responsibility for any injury or illness sustained while following the advice given.