Whether you are already pregnant or planning a pregnancy it is important to consider your nutrition and what supplements are advised for pregnancy.
As a general rule, eating a varied balanced diet will ensure you obtain the essential vitamins and minerals needed for health. However, there are a couple of widely recommended supplements and a few others with emerging evidence behind them.
Folic Acid is a well-known pregnancy supplement recommended from before you're pregnant until you're 12 weeks pregnant. Folic Acid is very important in the early development of a healthy baby. It can significantly reduce the risk of neural tube defects such as spina bifida. The basic dose is 400 micrograms of folic acid every day, although your healthcare provider may advise an increase dose for certain women with specific health issues or whom are at a higher risk of having a baby with a neural tube defect. You can obtain folate from some food sources such as; green vegetables, brown rice and fortified cereals and granary bread. However, it would be near impossible to obtain adequate levels through dietary food alone and so supplementation is highly recommended.
What is the difference between Folate and Folic Acid?
Put simple, Folate is a natural form of Vitamin B9 – this is an essential nutrient. Folic Acid is a synthetic form of Vitamin B9, your body doesn’t covert this form into active Vitamin B9 as well and so for some women unmetabolised Folic Acid may build up. Outside of pregnancy, getting your Vitamin B9 from food sources of Folate is sufficient. However, in pregnancy the additional supplementation is important.
The Department of Health and Social Care also advises you to consider taking a Vitamin Dsupplement. All adults, including pregnant and breastfeeding women, need 10mcg of Vitamin D each day and should consider taking a supplement containing this amount. Vitamin D is an essential nutrient and regulates the amount of calcium and phosphate in the body which are needed to keep bones, teeth and muscles all healthy. Our bodies make Vitamin D when our skin is exposed to sunlight however it isn’t known exactly how much time is needed in the sun to make enough Vitamin D to meet the body’s needed.
AVOID supplements containing Vitamin A in pregnancy. High levels of Vitamin A have been shown to cause birth defects.
There is a body of emerging evidence highlighting the importance of Omega-3 intake in pregnancy. Omega-3 fatty acids are essential fatty acids that must be consumed in the diet. Adequate consumption of omega-3 fatty acids is vitally important during pregnancy as they are critical building blocks for your baby’s brain. Optimising Omega-3 intake has also been shown to reduce symptoms of depression in mothers during pregnancy. There are 2 main omega-3 fatty acids : eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). Our bodies cannot make these themselves and so we must obtain them from the food we eat or supplements that we take. The main sources include oily fish, seeds, nuts and vegetable oils.We may not be able to obtain optimal levels through food alone in the modern-day diet and therefore some studies recommend supplementation of EPA and DHA.
Pregnancy is a powerful time to nourish yourself and your baby towards a healthier future. It is an empowering change that you can make yourself to directly improve the health of your family for the present and future. Healthy eating habits have arguably never been more important than during pregnancy. There are direct links between inadequate nutrition and increased pregnancy complications, such as preterm birth and low birth weight babies. The maternal diet not only has to provide sufficient energy and nutrients to meet her usual requirements but also the needs of her growing baby. Your healthcare professional may recommend additional supplementation depending on your individual health journey.
(NHS, 2020) (Coletta et al., 2010)