Pregnant and unsure about supplements?
Pregnancy is a unique phase in life. Suddenly you’re responsible for another life and you need to think carefully about how you nourish your body. In some cases, you might need supplements.
What should you eat?
Generally, if you eat a healthy and varied diet, the same as the general population, you will get all the nutrients you need. However, while a dietary supplement can’t replace a healthy diet, there are some nutrients you need to make sure you get enough of.
Your body cannot produce Omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids efficiently by itself, so this has to be added via your diet or supplements. The beneficial omega-6 fatty acid known as alpha linolenic is found in plant-based oils such as sunflower oil, corn oil and soya oil. Nuts, seeds, grains and cereals, and some vegetables such as avocado, are good sources of omega-6. With a normal diet, you get enough omega-6 fatty acids. Good sources of omega-3 are more limited and the most beneficial omega-3 fatty acids are only found in marine oily sources such as mackerel, herring, salmon and anchovies. Your consumption of the marine omega-3 fatty acid DHA contributes to the normal development of your baby’s brain and eyesight. Consider taking an omega-3 supplement if you eat the less than two portions of oily fish per week recommended by the NHS.
Read more about omega-3 – the vital fat
Vitamin D supplements
You might need an extra supplement of vitamin D. Sources of vitamin D include oily and some milk and dairy products enriched with vitamin D. Your body produces vitamin D when it is exposed to sunlight but this source can be limited in winter in the Northern Hemisphere, where there isn’t as much sunlight for several months of the year or because we stay indoors during the time of the day with the most sunlight. This is why the NHS advises that ” All adults, including pregnant and breastfeeding women, need 10 micrograms of vitamin D a day and should consider taking a supplement containing this amount.”
We need vitamin D in order to absorb and benefit from calcium and phosphorus. Both these minerals are important for maintaining your own skeletal system as well as developing the skeletal system of your baby. Your body’s requirement for calcium increases slightly during pregnancy.
Read more about vitamins and minerals
Folic acid supplements
Taking folic acid in pregnancy reduces the risk of congenital defects such as spina bifida. This is why the NHS recommends that women take a supplement of 400 micrograms of folic acid starting from when they plan to become pregnant and throughout the first trimester. Good sources of folate (folic acid) are broccoli, kale, Brussels sprouts and spinach, as well as coarse grain products.
During pregnancy, the blood volume that carries nutrients and waste material for both you and your baby increases. Your requirement for iron, included in the red blood cells, therefore increases. Sources of iron are bread and grain products, meat, beans, lentils, potatoes and green vegetables. Your doctor will measure your iron levels at every consultation throughout your pregnancy to see whether you need an iron supplement.
A survey of pregnant British women revealed that 74% consume less than the World Health Organisation (WHO) recommended intake of 250 micrograms of iodine daily. In recent years, there has been a decrease in the intake of milk, yogurt and seafood, all of which are sources of iodine. Iodine is essential to form hormones from the thyroid gland, which in turn are essential for the body’s metabolism and the development of the baby’s brain and nervous system. If you are pregnant or breastfeeding and either consume less than 600 ml of milk or yogurt per day, or eat little to no fish combined with less than 800 ml of milk or yogurt per day, you should consider a dietary supplement of iodine.