Vitamins and minerals in pregnancy

Some vitamins and minerals are very important when you’re pregnant.

Making sure you get the right nutrients is vital for your baby to grow and develop.

Folic acid (folate)

Your baby’s spine starts to grow very early in pregnancy.

Folic acid helps:

  • your baby’s spine develop properly
  • prevent conditions such as spina bifida, a neural tube defect which affects spinal development

Folic acid supplements

You should make sure you’re taking a daily 400 mcg (0.4 mg) folic acid tablet:

  • for at least 12 weeks before you conceive
  • for the first 12 weeks of your pregnancy

If you haven't been taking a folic acid supplement or Healthy Start vitamin tablets it's not too late to start.

Taking extra folic acid

Your midwife or GP may ask you to take a larger amount of folic acid (5 mg) if:

  • you’ve had a baby with a neural tube defect before
  • someone in your close family has a neural tube defect
  • you’re taking medicines for epilepsy
  • you have diabetes
  • you have coeliac disease
  • you’re overweight and your body mass index (BMI) is 30 or more
  • you have sickle-cell anaemia or thalassaemia

Folic acid in food

Folic acid is in some foods too, such as

  • green vegetables especially dark, leafy ones such as Brussels sprouts, kale, broccoli and spring greens – be careful not to overcook as this can destroy some of the vitamins
  • breakfast cereals – some have folic acid added, so check the label
  • citrus fruit, such as oranges, grapefruit and lemon
  • orange juice
  • yeast and beef extracts
  • beans and lentils

Iron

You and your baby need iron to make the haemoglobin in red blood cells.

While your baby's developing they get the iron they need from you. This means your iron levels can fall, making you anaemic.

Your body needs time to build up iron throughout pregnancy, so it’s important to make sure you’re regularly getting enough.

Foods rich in iron

You can get iron from:

  • red meat, such as beef and lamb – choose meat with very little fat
  • pulses, such as lentils and beans
  • wholemeal bread
  • green leafy vegetables, such as spinach, broccoli, kale and watercress
  • wholegrain, low-sugar breakfast cereals with added iron
  • dried fruit - limit portions to 30 g and eat at mealtimes to reduce the impact on your teeth
  • eggs
  • tofu
  • nuts and seeds

Eat these with some vitamin C to help your body use the iron. Try:

  • having a satsuma or some berries
  • taking 150 ml of orange juice with your meal

Tea and coffee can affect how well your body uses iron. Try to limit how much you drink and only have tea and coffee between meals.

Vitamin D

Vitamin D is very important throughout pregnancy and while breastfeeding.

Your body needs vitamin D to keep your heart, bones and teeth healthy. Your developing baby needs it for the same reasons.

If your baby doesn’t get enough vitamin D, it can also cause seizures (fits) after they’re born.

Vitamin D from sunlight

Your body usually gets most of the vitamin D it needs from sunlight. In Scotland there’s not enough sunlight to get what you need from October to March.

Also, if you have dark skin or your skin's covered, you’re more likely to have low levels of vitamin D.

Vitamin D supplements

To get enough vitamin D you’ll need to take a 10 mcg supplement every day. This usually comes as a tablet and is part of your free Healthy Start vitamins.

Although some foods contain vitamin D, such as oily fish, eggs and breakfast cereals, you can’t get enough from food alone.

Iodine

Iodine is a mineral needed to make thyroid hormones.

These hormones:

  • control your body's metabolism
  • help your baby’s bones and brain develop

If you eat foods including pasteurised milk, pasteurised dairy products and fish you'll probably get enough iodine.

If you don’t eat these foods, you’re more likely to be short of iodine so talk to you midwife or GP for advice about supplements.

Vitamin A

You only need a small amount of vitamin A and you should be able to get enough from the food you eat.

As vitamin A is stored in your body, this means it's possible you could store too much. This may be harmful to your baby.

When you’re pregnant:

  • don’t take supplements containing vitamin A
  • try to avoid liver or food with liver in it, such as pâté, haggis or liver sausage

Ask your midwife for information about what foods are best avoided when pregnant

Healthy Start vitamins

All pregnant women are entitled to free Healthy Start vitamins containing folic acid, vitamin C and vitamin D.

You don’t have to qualify for these. Just ask your midwife.

More about Healthy Start vitamins

Extra support

If you’re a mum under 18, or you’re over 18 and getting some benefits, you're likely to be entitled to extra support with nutrition, vitamins and minerals.

Speak to your midwife, health visitor and family nurse for more details.