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Taking good care of your health is always important, but this care becomes even more vital when you are pregnant. During pregnancy, your immunity and nutrient intake play a key role in the development of your baby since your body is the means through which the growing foetus derives sustenance.

Most of the nutrients necessary for your growing baby should come from a healthy diet of fresh vegetables, fruits, dairy products, grains, nuts and seeds. These are chock full of proteins, carbohydrates, and healthy fats. But where micronutrients - vitamins and minerals - are concerned, most pregnant women are recommended certain supplements to make up for individual deficiencies and for extra developmental support for the baby.

Read more: What to eat and what to avoid during pregnancy

  1. Why do you need vitamins and mineral supplements during pregnancy?
  2. Vitamin A during pregnancy
  3. Vitamin D during pregnancy
  4. Vitamin E during pregnancy
  5. Vitamin C during pregnancy
  6. Vitamin B1 or thiamine during pregnancy
  7. Vitamin B2 or riboflavin during pregnancy
  8. Vitamin B3 or niacin during pregnancy
  9. Vitamin B5 or pantothenic acid during pregnancy
  10. Vitamin B6 or pyridoxine during pregnancy
  11. Vitamin B7 or biotin during pregnancy
  12. Vitamin B9 or folic acid during pregnancy
  13. Vitamin B12 or cobalamin during pregnancy
  14. Calcium during pregnancy
  15. Iron during pregnancy
  16. Magnesium during pregnancy
  17. Zinc during pregnancy
  18. Iodine during pregnancy
  19. Takeaways

Folic acid, iron and calcium supplements are generally recommended to pregnant women. In addition to these, doctors may recommend higher dietary intake or supplements of some vitamins and minerals on a case-by-case basis.

Some vitamins and minerals are also recommended for women who are trying to get pregnant - but in case you weren’t taking them pre-pregnancy, your doctor could prescribe them for you now.

Once you find out that you are pregnant, you should visit an obstetrician and get a full check-up done between the 6th week of pregnancy and the 10th week of pregnancy. The doctor will ask you to undergo a number of routine tests and screenings, and take the medical history of your spouse and family as well. This way, the doctor can determine if you have any particular nutritional deficiency or if you are at risk for certain diseases.

Based on these findings, the doctor will prescribe the vitamins and supplements you need to assure the health of your baby and deliver him/her safely after the completion of your term. To be sure, you can get most of the nutrients naturally, by altering your diet to include foods rich in all the vitamins and minerals you need. If your deficiency is acute or you are not getting enough vitamins and minerals from your diet, then the doctor may prescribe multivitamin, mineral and folic acid tablets for you to take daily.

It’s important to not take supplements on hearsay or without the recommendation of a doctor, or exceed the prescribed dosage in any way. Doing this can cause an overdose and increase the toxicity of your body - which in turn can have a negative effect on your baby's growth.

Beta carotene is a type of antioxidant that converts into vitamin A when processed in the body. Vitamin A is required for the proper development of bones and teeth, and it is naturally found in foods like chicken liver, milk, eggs, carrots, spinach, green and yellow vegetables, broccoli, potatoes, pumpkin, yellow fruits, and cantaloupe (muskmelon).

It is safe to consume 770 micrograms to 1,000 micrograms of vitamin A and beta carotene in a day, as per the guidelines of the Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDA). But if you exceed this limit - or take extra vitamin A supplements - during your pregnancy, then it can lead to complications like birth defects.

One important thing to remember is that you can get enough vitamin A through your diet. Supplements are rarely recommended for pregnant women, so avoid vitamin A tablets unless your doctor advises otherwise.

A bit of sunshine, milk and fatty fish (like mackerel, salmon, trout, tuna) should be enough to give you all the vitamin D you need in a day, which is about 5-10 micrograms, according to the RDA.

This micronutrient helps the body absorb and use calcium and phosphorus (phosphorus deficiency can cause problems like poor bone development, difficulty in walking, weaknessanaemia and joint pain).

Our body, when exposed to sunlight, can make vitamin D. But since exposure to the sun for prolonged periods is not completely safe and the required exposure time has not been scientifically established anyway, your doctor will probably recommend a vitamin D supplement for you to take during pregnancy. This is especially needed if you work and your exposure to natural light is negligible.

Read more: Vitamin D deficiency: symptoms, causes, diagnosis, treatment, prevention

This type of vitamin also works as an antioxidant and is naturally found in vegetable oils like rice bran oil, wheat germ, nuts, spinach and fortified cereals.

Vitamin E is required for the proper function of multiple organs and helps build a healthy immune system. Not only does it help the body produce and use red blood cells, vitamin E also helps build muscles.

You are supposed to have 15 milligrams of vitamin E per day, according to the RDA.

Citrus fruits, bell peppers, capsicum, beans, strawberries, potatoes, broccoli and tomatoes are naturally rich in vitamin C.

This vitamin works as an antioxidant that can boost your entire immune system. It helps the body absorb iron, which in turn can keep anaemia at bay. What’s more, vitamin C also helps to avoid tissue damage.

Studies have shown that taking vitamin C during pregnancy may reduce the risk of placental abruption, especially among smokers. Placental abruption is a condition in which the placenta becomes partially or completely detached from the uterus any time during the pregnancy.

The minimum recommended dose for vitamin C during pregnancy is 80-85 milligrams per day though you can take up to 2000 milligrams through fresh fruits and vegetables.

Read more: Vitamin C deficiency: symptoms, causes, diagnosis, treatment, prevention

Vitamin B1, also known as Thiamine, raises the energy levels and regulates the nervous system. It’s vital for cognitive function, brain health, heart health and improves the digestive system, too.

Vitamin B1 is naturally found in whole grains, fortified cereals, wheat germ, organ meats like liver, eggs, parboiled rice, pasta, berries, nuts, legumes like green grams (moong sabut dal - cooked) and pork.

While pregnant, you should have a daily intake of 1.4 milligrams of vitamin B1.

The benefits of vitamin B2, also known as riboflavin, include keeping energy levels up, maintaining good eyesight and healthy skin growth, and overall growth and good health of the body.

Vitamin B2 helps the body break down carbohydrates, fats and proteins, thereby producing energy. It also helps the body use iron, vitamin B1, vitamin B3 and vitamin B6.

It is naturally found in meat, poultry including chicken, fish, dairy products and eggs. You should have 18-35 milligrams of it daily during your pregnancy.

Vitamin B3 or niacin is naturally found in high-protein foods, fortified cereals, bread, meat, fish, eggs, milk and peanuts.

It promotes healthy skin and maintains nerve and digestive health. Since it can reduce the symptoms of nausea and migraines, vitamin B3 is recommended to pregnant women.

But if you exceed the dose of 18 milligrams per day, especially through the consumption of foods like tuna fish, it can lead to mercury poisoning. It is advisable to source meats and fish from fresh markets to make sure you don’t get exposed to high levels of mercury.

Muscle cramps, especially in the legs, is a huge issue for pregnant women. Vitamin B5 or Pantothenic Acid can ease this issue if you consume 6 milligrams of it every day. This vitamin also helps produce pregnancy hormones. Vitamin B5 is naturally found in whole grains, fortified cereals, egg yolks, brown rice, cashew nuts and broccoli.

Not only does vitamin B6 or pyridoxine help in the development of your baby’s nervous system and brain, but it also produces essential neurotransmitters like serotonin and norepinephrine, which in turn can boost metabolic function. What’s more, it’s famous for helping manage the symptoms of morning sickness during the early stages of pregnancy. But you should not exceed the daily dose of 1.9 milligrams by much, because that can cause numbness and nerve damage.

Vitamin B6 is naturally found in beans, bananas, sunflower seeds, oats, bran, walnuts, peanuts, fish, chicken, eggs, pork, liver and soybean - you may be able to get all the vitamin B6 you need from a healthy diet alone.

Benefits of biotin or vitamin B7 include promoting proper function of the liver and the nervous system, as well as cell growth. It is vital for embryonic development. Pregnancy can naturally cause vitamin B7 deficiency, so it’s important to boost your diet with oats, milk, mushrooms, avocado, cauliflower, spinach, broccoli, legumes and eggs. You should have 30 micrograms of vitamin B7 daily during your pregnancy, but do not exceed the dosage regularly because it can lead to acne, allergy and even miscarriage.

One of the most vital nutrients you need during pregnancy, vitamin B9 or folic acid is recommended to all pregnant women.

An increased intake of this vitamin supports the proper function of the placenta and reduces the chances of preeclampsia and neural tube defects like spina bifida in your baby. And since it also helps in producing red blood cells, you need to take 400-800 micrograms of folic acid every day during your pregnancy.

Foods like lentils, spinach, beans, broccoli, asparagus and liver are rich in folic acid, and you should increase the intake of these. In addition to these, your doctor will most likely give you folic acid tablets to consume during your pregnancy.

This additional supplement is especially important if you are carrying multiple foetuses (twins, triplets or more), are overweight, are on anti-seizure or diabetes medications, or if you have a genetic mutation that leads to the deficiency of Methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase (an enzyme), which makes it harder for your body to produce folic acid.

Remember that your dosage depends on your individual medical condition and history, and you shouldn’t increase the dose without the recommendation of your doctor. Your doctor may prescribe a folic acid test to check the level of vitamin B9 in your blood. 

Read more: Vitamin B9 deficiency: symptoms, causes, treatment, medicines

Soy milk, shellfish, fish, liver, pork, eggs, dairy products like yoghurt and cheese, and chicken are rich in vitamin B12 or cobalamin.

This vitamin also helps prevent neural tube defects and aids in DNA synthesis. Have enough vitamin B12 and your energy, mood and stress levels will be better maintained.

You should have 2.6 micrograms of vitamin B12 per day when you are pregnant.

The fact that calcium helps build strong bones and teeth is well known. This mineral also helps prevent blood clots, build muscles and improve nerve function.

All dairy products, soy milk, juices, bread, cereals, green leafy vegetables and fish are rich in calcium.

Ideally, you should have 1,000 micrograms to 1,300 micrograms of calcium every day while you’re pregnant. Women are more prone to calcium deficiency, so your doctor might prescribe supplements for you for the term of the pregnancy and after it as well.

Iron benefits during pregnancy include reduced the chances of premature labour and reduced risk of your baby being born with low-birth weight (under 2.5 kilograms). Sufficient levels of iron in your blood can keep anaemia during pregnancy at bay.

Red meat, dried beans, dry fruits, wheat germ, oatmeal and fortified grains are rich in iron.

You should have 27 milligrams of iron daily during your pregnancy, according to RDA guidelines.

Read more: Iron deficiency: symptoms, causes, diagnosis, treatment, prevention

We need magnesium for stabilising bone formation and maintaining healthy metabolism: it activates around 600 enzymes in the body! This mineral helps to reduce stress and maintain normal blood pressure. Magnesium also plays an important role in muscle contraction.

Magnesium helps in embryonic and fetal development, and relieving muscle cramps and abdominal pain during pregnancy. In the third trimester of pregnancy, the foetus also stores magnesium in his/her body. Magnesium can act as a laxative, and relieve constipation during pregnancy.

Due to an increase in pregnancy hormones, your body tends to flush out more magnesium with urine during pregnancy. The German Nutrition Society recommends that you should have 310 milligrams of magnesium during pregnancy, but it’s best to ask your doctor about the dosage you need.

Green leafy vegetables, whole grains, nuts, sunflower seeds, linseed and bananas are high in magnesium, but if this dosage isn’t enough, then you will have to take supplements.

Read more: Magnesium deficiency: symptoms, diagnosis, treatment, prevention

Low intake of zinc during pregnancy has been linked to a number of complications, including premature delivery, low birth weight, congenital anomalies, labour and delivery complications, etc. It is therefore very important to increase the intake of foods rich in zinc, like red meat, poultry, beans, nuts, fortified cereals, oysters and dairy products.

You should have 11-13 milligrams of zinc every day while you are pregnant, and if you aren’t getting adequate amounts via your diet, then your doctor will recommend supplements.

Read more: Zinc deficiency: symptoms, causes, treatment, prevention

Iodine is vital for the proper function of the thyroid gland, and your body needs more of it when you are pregnant and nursing your baby.

The risks during pregnancy increase manifold if you already suffer from hypothyroidism.

Foods like seaweed, eggs, shrimp, tuna and dairy products have some amount of iodine, but your doctor might want to give you iodine supplements during and after pregnancy. Iodized salt is another important source of this mineral in our diet, so if you use pink salt or any alternative to commercially produced iodized salt, make sure to point it out to your doctor. 

The RDA for iodine is between 220 micrograms and 290 micrograms a day.

Read more: Iodine deficiency: symptoms, causes, diagnosis, treatment, prevention

Vitamins and minerals play a key role in the development of your baby and also ensure good health for you. During pregnancy, you have to change your diet to make sure that your growing baby gets enough nutrition, and adding more vitamins and minerals is an important aspect of this diet.

In case your doctor finds any deficiencies or deduces that you are at risk of certain complications or diseases, then he or she will also recommend supplements.

Supplements of folic acid, iron and calcium are usually recommended to all pregnant women, but you have to remember not to increase or decrease the dosage. If you do, it could be harmful to your health and that of your baby.

You should not take vitamin A supplements during pregnancy unless advised by your doctor. An excess of vitamin A can cause toxicity.

For twin pregnancy - if you are carrying twins, triplets or more babies - increase the quality of food you eat to get more micronutrients from your diet. Do not take supplements or increase the dosage without the specific recommendation of your doctor.

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References

  1. National Research Council (US) Subcommittee on the Tenth Edition of the Recommended Dietary Allowances. Recommended Dietary Allowances: 10th Edition. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 1989. 2, Definition and Applications
  2. National Health Service [Internet]. UK; Vitamins, supplements and nutrition in pregnancy
  3. American Society for Nutrition [Internet]. Rockville, Maryland, USA; New research on diet and supplements during pregnancy and beyond
  4. American Pregnancy Association [Internet]. Irving, Texas, USA; Nutrients and Vitamins for Pregnancy
  5. Amy Schweitzer. Dietary Supplements During Pregnancy. J Perinat Educ. 2006 Fall; 15(4): 44–45. PMID: 17768435.
  6. Linus Pauling Institute. Micronutrient Information Center: Oregon State University. Corvallis. Oregon. USA; Micronutrient Needs During Pregnancy and Lactation
  7. American Pregnancy Association [Internet]. Irving, Texas, USA; Roles of Vitamin B in Pregnancy
  8. World Health Organization [Internet]. Geneva (SUI): World Health Organization; Vitamin B6 supplementation during pregnancy
  9. Dean L. Methylenetetrahydrofolate Reductase Deficiency. 2012 Mar 8 [Updated 2016 Oct 27]. In: Pratt V, McLeod H, Rubinstein W, et al., editors. Medical Genetics Summaries [Internet]. Bethesda (MD): National Center for Biotechnology Information (US)
  10. Michelle A. Kominiarek. Nutrition Recommendations in Pregnancy and Lactation. Med Clin North Am. 2016 Nov; 100(6): 1199–1215. PMID: 27745590
  11. A. Abramovici, et al. Prenatal vitamin C and E supplementation in smokers is associated with reduced placental abruption and preterm birth: a secondary analysis. BJOG. 2015 Dec;122(13):1740-7. PMID: 25516497
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