Pregnancy vitamins and supplements: the essentials

Good nutrition during pregnancy is essential for the health of both mother and baby. Research shows that the food a mother eats while pregnant can affect both the baby’s development and its health later on in life. A healthy diet during pregnancy is similar to one for non‐pregnant women and should include plenty of variety. However, pregnancy places specific nutritional demands on the body and increases the need for certain nutrients.1

Vitamin D is required for optimal calcium and phosphorous absorption, as well as the development of healthy bones. The developing baby is dependent on the vitamin D status of the mother for adequate vitamin D nutrition, which is important for healthy development of the skeleton.

Folic acid is one of the most important vitamins for the healthy development of a baby, especially during early pregnancy. The neural tube develops to form the baby’s brain and spinal cord, as well as the bones surrounding them. A neural tube defect occurs when something goes wrong during this process, and can have health consequences for the baby. Folic acid supplemented before conception and during the first few weeks of pregnancy may reduce the risk of neural tube defects in 70% of cases.2

Iodine is another essential nutrient during pregnancy and breastfeeding. The thyroid gland needs iodine in small amounts to produce hormones that ensure healthy brain and nervous system development in babies during pregnancy, in infants and in children. It is recommended that all women who are pregnant, breastfeeding or considering becoming pregnant take an iodine supplement providing 150μg (micrograms) per day.3

Omega‐3 fatty acids are required during the last trimester of pregnancy for normal development and function of the brain and central nervous system. DHA in particular contributes to the visual system during early fetal development. Supplementation during lactation increases the DHA level in breast milk.

Women may need increased iron intake during pregnancy, as the developing baby needs to store enough to last it for the first six months after birth. It is important to include iron‐rich sources of food in your daily diet during pregnancy. There are two types of iron‐haem and non‐haem iron. Haem iron is found in animal products such as red meat, chicken and seafood and is easily absorbed by the body. Non‐haem iron is found in plant foods and is not as easily absorbed. Make sure to also eat foods that are rich in vitamin C (such as oranges), as this will help the body to maximise the absorption of iron.4