Folic acid & other nutrients in pregnancy
Learn more about folic acid & other supplements you can take during pregnancy
A healthy lifestyle and balanced diet is essential at any point in your life, but even more so during pregnancy.
Vitamin supplements can help keep you and your baby healthy during pregnancy. If you’re pregnant you’ve no doubt heard of folic acid. It’s a vitamin that the government recommend taking whilst trying to conceive and for the early weeks of pregnancy.
What is folic acid?
Folic acid, also known as folate or vitamin B9, is part of the B vitamins group. As with other B vitamins, folic acid has many health benefits, including:
• supporting a healthy immune system
• helping reduce tiredness and fatigue
• playing a role in normal psychological functions
Folic acid also plays a critical role before and during pregnancy to support the development of a healthy foetus. It’s been proven to play a part in reducing the risk of neural tube defects (NTDs) such as spina bifida, and also supports maternal tissue growth during pregnancy.*
Scientific studies showed that women who had enough folic acid before getting pregnant and during the first three months of pregnancy significantly reduced the risk of their baby developing NTDs.*
Where can I get folic acid from?
The following foods are a good source of folic acid:
• green leafy vegetables
• brown rice
• granary bread
• fortified breakfast cereals
It can be difficult to get the right level of folic acid needed for this critical time through diet alone. The best way to ensure you’re getting enough folic acid is by taking a folic acid supplement.
What level do I need?
The government recommends taking 400 micrograms (mcg/µg) of folic acid every day. You should take this from when you are trying to conceive until the early weeks of pregnancy.
What other vitamins should I take?
It is important to continue to eat a varied and healthy diet during pregnancy, and although most vitamins and minerals can be obtained through the diet alone, there are instances where you might find taking a supplement useful.
There are other vitamins and minerals which can support you during pregnancy, such as vitamin D, calcium, iron, vitamin C and omega 3.
It’s important to make sure your baby is getting enough vitamin D during your pregnancy. You can take a supplement to support this. Take a look at our range of vitamin D supplements suitable for pregnant women.
Vitamin D is a nutrient obtained from sunlight and your diet and it’s essential for strong, healthy bones and teeth. It works to support your bones by aiding the absorption of calcium. Most people know about the importance of calcium for healthy bones and teeth, however not many people know that your body struggles to absorb calcium without vitamin D. Therefore, getting enough vitamin D is particularly important in early childhood when growing bones develop.
Working hand in hand with vitamin D, it’s really important to ensure you get the right amount of calcium in your diet when you’re pregnant. Calcium-rich foods include:
• milk, cheese and yoghurt
• green leafy vegetables such as rocket and watercress
• soya drinks with added calcium
• food made with fortified flour such as bread
• fish where you eat the bones such as sardines and pilchards
Iron levels can drop in pregnancy, and you’ll get regular checks to ensure your levels are healthy. To help keep your iron levels up, an iron supplement or a supplement containing iron can help if recommended by your GP. Iron is needed for the formation of normal red blood cells and helps reduce tiredness and fatigue. A good source of iron can be found in:
• many breakfast cereals
• lean meat
• green leafy vegetables
Vitamin C helps the body absorb iron, so it’s essential you get enough. Vitamin C can be found in many fruits and vegetables, with the best sources being:
• oranges and orange juice
• red and green peppers
• Brussels sprouts
Omega 3 are substances found in fish, and the key omega 3 nutrients are DHA and EPA. EPA stands for eicosapentaenoic acid and DHA stands for docosahexaenoic acid. DHA has been associated with health benefits during pregnancy as it contributes to healthy brain and eye development of the foetus.
DHA’s health benefits also continue during breastfeeding as it contributes to healthy brain and eye development of breastfed infants as well.* However, since pregnant women should not eat more than two portions of oily fish per week, taking a supplement containing DHA is advisable during pregnancy to ensure you have enough to contribute to the baby’s healthy development. DHA and EPA are the fatty acids commonly found within omega 3 supplements we sell.
Is it safe to take vitamin A?
It’s important that you don’t take vitamin A supplements in pregnancy, or any supplements containing vitamin A (retinol), as too much could harm your unborn baby.
Pregnancy supplements often contain many other vitamins and minerals, such as B vitamins, vitamin C, magnesium and zinc. The reason these supplements contain additional nutrients is to ensure pregnant women get the range of nutritional support they may need.
*Supplemental folic acid intake increases maternal folate status. Low maternal folate status is a risk factor in the development of neural tube defects in the developing foetus.
The beneficial effect is obtained with a supplemental folic acid daily intake of 400 μg for at least one month before and up to three months after conception.
Folate contributes to maternal tissue growth during pregnancy.
Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) maternal intake contributes to the normal brain development and eye development of the foetus and breastfed infants.
The beneficial effect is obtained with a daily intake of 200 mg of DHA in addition to the recommended daily intake for omega-3 fatty acids for adults, i.e.: 250 mg DHA and EPA.
Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) intake contributes to the normal visual development of infants up to 12 months of age. The beneficial effect is obtained with a daily intake of 100 mg of DHA.