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Vitamins and supplements during pregnancy

Eating a varied and balanced diet will help you to achieve most of the nutrition needed to support a healthy pregnancy. However, those who are pregnant are also advised to take a folic acid and vitamin D supplement with their diet. 

Folic acid 

A daily 400 microgram folic acid supplement is advised until the end of the 12th week of pregnancy to help reduce the risk of development problems in the early stages of pregnancy, such as spina bifida (neural tube defects). Taking a supplement, plus eating a diet rich in natural folate and fortified foods such as breakfast cereals is recommended. Good sources of folate include green leafy vegetables, beans and legumes, oranges and wholegrain foods.

Some people are advised by their midwife or GP to take a higher daily dose of folic acid (5 milligrams); for example if they have diabetes, coeliac disease, a raised Body Mass Index (BMI), or take anti-epilepsy medicine.

Vitamin D

A daily 10 microgram vitamin D supplement is advised for those who are pregnant and breastfeeding.

Vitamin D works with calcium and phosphorous in the body to build and protect healthy bones, muscles and teeth. Having enough vitamin D helps the body to absorb all the calcium it needs for good bone health. Foods that provide a good source of vitamin D are oily fish include salmon, sardines and pilchards, eggs (yolk), and some fortified breakfast cereals and yogurts. However, we get most of our vitamin D from sunshine. Having a healthy balanced diet is vital for all the other important nutrients, but it is unlikely to provide enough vitamin D. During autumn and winter months, body stores are relied on to supply vitamin D, but these are often not enough to keep levels topped up, and so taking a daily 10 microgram supplement is recommended, particularly at this time of year.

Vitamin D supplements may be labelled in IU (international units) rather than micrograms. 400 IU is the same as 10 micrograms. A number of vitamin D supplements are not suitable for those following a vegan diet so check labels and make sure choices offer the same or similar daily amounts as recommended above.

Those who are, or could become pregnant should avoid any supplements containing vitamin A (retinol).

Where to get pregnancy supplements

The Healthy Start Scheme offers eligible families who are pregnant or have a child under 4 years old, free vitamins and support to buy healthy food and milk.

If you are not eligible to receive Healthy Start vitamins during pregnancy, you can buy a supplement containing folic acid and vitamin D from a range of pharmacies or supermarkets. Some key considerations are:

  • Look for supplements that are labelled as suitable for pregnancy.
  • Do not take cod liver oil supplements or any supplement that contains vitamin A (retinol).
  • If you think you may need a higher daily amount of folic acid talk to your midwife or GP.
  • It may work out cheaper to buy folic acid and vitamin D as separate supplements.
  • Some vitamin D supplements may not contain exactly 10 micrograms per tablet. Some may contain a little more. Aim to find one that is close to this amount as possible and do not take any more than 100 micrograms (4,000IU) units a day as this could be harmful.
  • Check if the supplement is suitable for your needs e.g. not all vitamin D supplements are suitable for vegans.
  • Some varieties of pregnancy supplements can be very expensive and may include a range of vitamins, minerals or nutrients that you do not need or are not essential to supplement your diet. Check labels and discuss with your midwife or health professional if unsure.