Is it necessary to take vitamin supplements in pregnancy?

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When you are pregnant, eating a healthy, balanced diet is the simplest way to ensure that both you and your baby receive the vitamins and minerals that are necessary for growth, so good nutrition should be an essential aspect of your pregnancy care. At least five portions of fruit and vegetables each day – fresh, canned, dried or frozen – will not only provide essential nutrients for your pregnancy but will also ensure that you maintain high fibre levels for good digestion.

But how necessary is it to supplement your diet with vitamins and minerals? Some, such as vitamin C and calcium, can easily be obtained from food but for others it is advisable to take a daily supplement.

Folic Acid

Folic acid helps to reduce the risk of birth defects that can cause serious life-limiting conditions such as spina bifida. While folic acid can be found naturally in some foods, such as green leafy vegetables, and is also added to cereals and margarine, you should also take a 400mg tablet daily for the first twelve weeks of pregnancy.

While it’s best to begin supplementing before you conceive, it’s never too late to start taking folic acid, so add it to your daily schedule as soon as you learn that you are pregnant. Because it is difficult to obtain the right amount of folic acid from your food alone, it is important to supplement with tablets alongside enjoying a healthy diet.

Vitamin D

Current medical advice is that all adults, not just pregnant women, should consider boosting their vitamin D level with a daily supplement of 10mg. Vitamin D is essential for bone, muscle and teeth health and, due to low levels of sunlight in the northern hemisphere – particularly in winter – it can be difficult for the body to produce enough vitamin D.

You can also increase your intake of vitamin D by consuming eggs, red meat and oily fish. However, as few foods contain the vitamin, it’s wise to consider a tablet supplement as well.

Iron

Iron is another mineral available in certain foods such as leafy green vegetables, nuts and dried fruit, but in pregnancy, levels can drop, leading to tiredness and anaemia.

Being tired is definitely not a symptom that you want to endure – carrying a baby is intensive enough – but if you suspect that your iron levels are low, you must consult a medical professional before supplementing, as additional iron can cause constipation and other side effects.

A balanced diet is the best way to obtain the vital nutrients needed to maintain your own health and to support your baby in its growth. However, folic acid and vitamin D can be safely sourced from supplements as they are more difficult to obtain from diet alone, but if in doubt always seek medical advice before adding anything to your daily diet.

Photo: 37 weeks by bradkeb licensed under Creative commons 2
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