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Everything you need to know about food supplements and nutrition for pregnancy

Maybe surprisingly, a healthy diet might not be enough to provide you with all the crucial nutrients, minerals, and vitamins you need during pregnancy – that’s where supplements come in. As your pregnancy progresses, your baby will have extra demands on your body. Since your baby will get all the essential nutrients from you, you need more than you did before pregnancy to make sure they develop properly.

First of all, we want to make it clear that you need to seek your doctor's advice before you start taking any of these supplements; that’s because some supplements, like vitamin A, might not be right for you. Read on to discover the critical supplements you need during pregnancy and their benefits.

What are pregnancy supplements?

Your body, especially during pregnancy, needs nutrients like vitamins, protein, fat, minerals, fibre, and carbohydrates, and supplements supply them.

Pregnancy supplements are complementary medicines made for pregnant women to provide them with the vitamins and minerals their bodies need to fill any nutritional gaps in their diet. These supplements are required in order to ensure a healthy pregnancy and the baby's proper development. Besides, you can start taking these supplements once you start trying to get pregnant.

Why you need pregnancy supplements

During pregnancy, all the necessary nutrients your baby needs are gotten from you, and sometimes, a healthy, balanced diet does not provide enough nutrients for both you and the baby. Supplements help to meet this nutrient demand and ensure both you and your baby have all you need. Outlined below are some other reasons why you need pregnancy supplements.

Pregnant with Multiples

If you have a multiple pregnancy, your nutrient requirement will be more than if you were pregnant with only one baby. In this case, supplements are needed to ensure that both the mother and the babies have optimal nutrition.

Inadequate Nutrition

Pregnant women with poor nutrition or eating habits need supplements to provide the vitamins and minerals missing from their diet.

Nutrient Deficits

Nutrient deficiencies are normal, especially for pregnant women, so some supplements help correct these deficiencies and prevent congenital disabilities.

Dietary Restrictions

Pregnant women with food allergies and restricted diets, like vegans and vegetarians, need supplements to fill the nutrient gap in their diet and prevent micronutrient deficiencies.

What are the most important supplements needed during pregnancy?

1. Folic Acid (Vitamin B9)

Folic acid is folate in synthetic form, and it is a B vitamin that helps in foetal growth and development, DNA synthesis, and red blood cell production. Taking folic acid before and during pregnancy can help prevent a neural tube defect, like spina bifida, and congenital abnormalities, like heart defects or cleft palate. It is best for women of childbearing age to start taking folic acid before getting pregnant to prevent any birth abnormalities related to folate deficiency.

Before pregnancy, you need to take 400 mcg of the folic acid supplement every day. Once pregnant, doctors recommend taking at least 600 mcg of folic acid daily. You can also get folic acid from foods like nuts, leafy vegetables, beans, and citrus fruits, but it is best to take a supplement as a reserve.

2. Vitamin D

Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin that regulates the amount of calcium and phosphate in the body and maintains bone health, cell division, and immune function. Your baby's bones and teeth will grow properly with vitamin D supplements. You need about 600 IU (15 mcg) of vitamin D every day, and you can get this amount from prenatal supplements or food. Some foods you can find vitamin D in include eggs, red meat, salmon, sardines, milk, and cereal.

Increased risk of preeclampsia, gestational diabetes, and preterm birth have been linked to a deficiency in vitamin D. Besides, you must not exceed 100 mcg (4000 IU) of vitamin D daily, as this can be very harmful.

3. Iron

Iron is a mineral that helps in the generation of red blood cells and the transport of oxygen in the body, and it is critical to the development of the foetus and placenta. By taking iron supplements, you will ensure that enough oxygen and blood are supplied to the foetus. These supplements also prevent anaemia in the mother and baby, as well as low baby birth weight.

The recommended daily iron intake is 27mg, which you can get from most prenatal supplements. However, your doctor might prescribe a higher dose if you have iron deficiency. Some foods that contain iron include nuts, dried fruit, leafy vegetables, poultry, seafood, cereal, beans, and lean meat.

4. Calcium

Calcium mineral is needed to develop your baby's bones, heart, muscles, nerves, and teeth to grow. You need about 1000 mg of calcium daily during pregnancy, and you can get this requirement by taking supplements or eating food fortified with calcium.

Calcium supplements also ensure that the mother doesn't lose her bone density during pregnancy, as it is required for the baby's bone growth. If you don't provide your baby with enough calcium nutrients, your body will take it from your bones and give it to the baby. This will result in health conditions like osteoporosis.

5. Cobalamin (Vitamin B12)

Vitamin B12 is vital for pregnant women as this vitamin supports the development and maintenance of the mother and baby’s central nervous system. This vitamin is critical for the formation of the baby’s brain and neural tube. Combined with vitamin B9, it can help in the production of red blood cells and DNA synthesis.

You are recommended to take about 2.6 mcg of cobalamin every day, and supplements help you attain this intake. Some food sources of vitamin B12 include fish, milk, eggs, yoghurt, red meat, and poultry. Also, doctors believe that folic acid and vitamin B12 supplements can help to prevent defects that affect the central nervous system and the spine.

6. Magnesium

Magnesium mineral plays a number of roles in the body, and it is essential for muscle, nerve, and immune function, normal blood pressure maintenance, and protein synthesis. Magnesium deficiency during pregnancy can increase the risk of premature labour and chronic hypertension. This mineral can be found in many foods like nuts, grain, beans, greens, and seeds.

The required daily magnesium intake for pregnant women is about 350mg, which they can get from supplements. Magnesium supplements also help to reduce complications risks like preterm birth, low birth weight, stillbirth, preeclampsia, and foetal growth restriction.

7. Omega 3 Fatty Acid

Omega-3 fatty acids, Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), is a kind of fat, normally found in seafood, that helps with the growth and development of the baby. Some food sources of omega-3 fatty acids include fish, milk, eggs, nuts, flaxseed, kidney beans, broccoli, and orange juice. Studies have shown that omega-3 fatty acids help to reduce the risk of low birth weight, preeclampsia, and preterm birth. Besides, people that don't eat seafood can get omega-3 fatty acids from supplements.

8. Choline

The body can make choline, and you can get this nutrient from different food sources. Some of these food sources include egg, chicken, broccoli, peanuts, Brussels sprouts, and beef. However, many pregnant women don't get enough choline from diet alone and will need a choline supplement. Plus, this nutrient is required for the healthy growth of the baby's brain and spinal cord.

Taking choline supplements will help to reduce the risk of brain and spine abnormalities. Pregnant women are required to take up about 450 mg of choline per day during their pregnancy. While breastfeeding, women are required to take 550 mg daily.

9. Probiotics

Probiotics supplements may reduce the risk of eczema in babies, complications, and preterm delivery, and it also enhances markers of metabolic health in pregnant women. This supplement helps to improve digestive health and reduce the risk of heart disease. However, not all pregnant women can take probiotics supplement – you need to get a prescription from your doctor first.

10. Iodine

Iodine is essential to maintain a healthy thyroid function in pregnant women as it helps to make thyroid hormones that enable the body to store and use energy from. Iodine is needed for the development of the baby’s brain and nervous system. Besides, iodine deficiency can result in stillbirth, stunted growth, miscarriage, deafness, and severe mental disability.

Pregnant women are required to take 220 mcg of iodine daily, and they can get it from supplements or foods. Some good food sources of iodine include milk, fish, fortified cereal, yoghurt, cheese, and bread.

11. Zinc

Many women have moderate zinc deficiency, despite the fact that zinc can be found in many foods. Zinc is a mineral that plays a critical role in the development of the baby's DNA and cells, and it helps in tissue growth and cell division. This mineral reduces the risk of preterm births and low birth weight, and it also supports the mother's immune system, protecting them against infections.

The recommended daily intake of zinc for every woman is 7 mg, which you can get from a healthy diet or from supplements. Some food sources of zinc include fortified cereals, wholegrain bread, oysters, beef fillet, lamb chops, nuts, and tomatoes.

12. L-ascorbic Acid (Vitamin C)

Vitamin C is a water-soluble vitamin you need every day, especially as a pregnant woman. Because the human body cannot store vitamin c, you'll need a fresh intake. This vitamin is beneficial to both mother and baby, as it helps in the development of the baby's bones and teeth. Vitamin c is also needed for tissue repair and collagen production, further bolstering immunity and improving iron absorption. Additionally, pregnant women should have a daily intake of 85 mg of vitamin C.

13. Thiamine (Vitamin B1)

Vitamin B1 is essential to the development of the baby's brain and placental function, and you are required to consume about 1.4 mg daily. Multiple pregnancies require a higher dosage depending on the number of babies. This vitamin is crucial for proper carbohydrate utilization, and it helps the muscles. Some food sources of vitamin B1 include peas, salmon, oats, wheat, brown rice, cereals, lentils, and pork. Vitamin B1 supplements come in handy when you cannot meet your daily dietary requirements.

14. Riboflavin (Vitamin B2)

Vitamin B2 is a water-soluble vitamin that ensures good vision, healthy skin, and the development of the baby’s bones and muscles. Because it is water-soluble, pregnant women are required to ingest it daily through prenatal supplements or food. Some vitamin B2 food sources include turkey, chicken, fish, eggs, carrots, spinach, potatoes, almonds, peas, oats, and dairy.

Pregnant women are required to take 1.4 mg of riboflavin daily, while those who are not pregnant need 1.1 mg every day.

15. Niacin (Vitamin B3)

Vitamin B3 is a vitamin that enhances nutrient metabolism and digestion, and it helps to reduce nausea and migraines. It also helps in the development of the baby’s brain and nervous system. Doctors recommend that pregnant women take 18mg of niacin every day, which they can get from supplements or foods.

Some food sources of niacin include turkey, liver, peas, beans, brown rice, tomatoes, chicken, avocados, potatoes, and beef. It is essential that you don't overdose on niacin supplements as they can have adverse consequences. Seek a prescription from your doctor before taking this supplement.


Which vitamins should I take during pregnancy?

You need to take varying vitamins and minerals during pregnancy like folic acid, calcium, choline, iron, iodine, vitamin B complex, vitamin C, vitamin D, and omega-3 fatty acids.

Do I need folic acid?

Yes, you need to help in foetal growth and development, DNA synthesis, and red blood cell production.

How much folic acid do I need?

Before pregnancy, you need to take 400 mcg of the folic acid supplement every day and 600 mcg of folic acid daily during pregnancy.

Why is vitamin B important in pregnancy?

Vitamin B plays a critical role in ensuring that you have a healthy pregnancy. The different vitamin B complexes from B1 to B12 help in the baby’s brain and nervous system development and maintenance. They also help to create pregnancy hormones, improve digestion, and prevent congenital disabilities that affect the central nervous system and spine.

Written by Natasha Edwards