It is extremely important to have a healthy and adequate diet during pregnancy to make sure you and your baby stay safe and go through the whole process of pregnancy smoothly. You diet should be rich in a wide variety of nutritious foods to meet the needs of your baby and your body. It is only natural that the daily requirement of energy increases in pregnancy as well as lactation.
Today's post is about "What vitamins to take during pregnancy?". Please do not have the misconception that the vitamins that I am going to mention today are the only vitamins that you have to take during pregnancy.
Your body requires all the vitamins in certain amounts, whether you are pregnant OR not. This post is about some particular vitamins that you have to take in additional amounts during pregnancy (and lactation).
Vitamins to take during pregnancy
Vitamin A is a fat soluble vitamin. (see classification of vitamin). There are basically two types of vitamin A, preformed retinol and provitamin beta carotene. Retinol is found only in animal-derived foods and beta carotene is found in some green, leafy, colored vegetables and fruits.
Why you should take vitamin A during pregnancy:
- Vitamin A is required for the growth and maintenance of the developing fetus.
- Development of the different cells of the fetus, for example, eye, skin, bone, teeth etc.
- Provides some reserve of vitamin A, This helps to prevent blindness associated with vitamin A deficiency.
Be extremely cautious about how much vitamin A you take during pregnancy as too much of it will lead to teratogenicity (malformation or developmental defects in the baby).
Folic acid is a water soluble vitamin and part of the vitamin B complex. It is also known as folate or folacin. Folic acid can be found in meat, milk, egg, leafy vegetables etc. Liver is the richest source of folic acid but an alternative source (e.g. leafy vegetables) is advised in early pregnancy because of the high vitamin A content of liver.
Why you should take folic acid during pregnancy:
- To prevent neural tube defects in the baby. Neural tube defects are disorders of the central nervous system that results in the malformation of the spine, skull and brain. There are two types of neural tube defects -
- Spina bifida: A congenital defect of the spine in which part of the spinal cord and its meninges are exposed through a gap in the backbone. It often causes paralysis of the lower limbs, and sometimes mental handicap
- Anencephaly: A lethal birth defect in which most of the brain and parts of the skull are missing
The UK Department of Health advises that women who have experienced a pregnancy affected by a neural tube defect should take 5 mg of folic acid daily from before conception and throughout the first trimester.
According to Lumley J, et al (Cochrane Review), folate supplementaton in advance of concecption and during the first trimester reduces the incidence of neural tube defects by approximately 70%.
All women planning a pregnancy are advised to include good sources of folate in their diet and take folate supplements throughout the first trimester.
Vitamin D has two main forms, vitamin D2 (Calciferol) and viamin D3 (Cholecalciferol). Our body has the ability to synthesize vitamin D from sunlight. The dietary sources of vitamin D include fish liver oil, butter, cheese etc.
Why you should take vitamin D during pregnancy:
- Needed by the body to absorb and utilize calcium and phosphorous.
- To ensure the proper development of your baby's bone and teeth.
- To strengthen the immune system of you and your baby.
If your vitamin D intake is lower than the required amount, the your baby might suffer from:
- Defective dental enamel
- Hypocalcaemia (abnormally low level of calcium in the blood)
- Hypoparathyroidism (Diminished concentration of parathyroid hormone in the blood, which causes deficiencies of calcium and phosphorus compounds in the blood and results in muscular spasms)
Vitamin C is also known as ascorbic acid or ascorbate. Best sources of vitamin C include fresh fruits and green leafy vegetables.
Why you should take vitamin C during pregnancy:
- Vitamin C is a potent antioxidant. It helps to neutralize radicals (Highly reactive chemicals that can damage important cellular molecules such as DNA or lipids or other parts of the cell).
- In the third trimester you baby's demand for vitamin C increases. So vitamin C is especially required in additional amounts in the third trimester to maintain your own body store (of vitamin C).
- It also helps to improve the immune system
Vitamin B1 is also called Thiamine. Important sources of thiamine are whole grain cereals, wheat, pulses, nuts and oilseeds, fish, egg, meat etc. Milk is an important source of thiamine for infants.
Why you should take thiamine during pregnancy:
- Essential for the metabolism of carbohydrate and fat.
- To meet the increased fetal energy demands.
- To prevent infantile beriberi.
Infantile beriberi is seen in infants between 2-4 months of age. The affected baby is usually breast-fed by a thiamine-deficient mother who commonly shows signs thiamine deficiency (peripheral neuropathy).
Vitamin B2 is also called Riboflavin. Its richest natural sources are milk, eggs, green leafy vegetables etc.
Why you should take riboflavin during pregnancy:
- Required for normal energy metabolism
- To meet the extra demands of the baby
- Thiamine: to prevent infantile beriberi.
- Vitamin B12 or Cobalamin
- Vitamin B3 or Niacin
As always, make sure you consult your doctor before trying out a new vitamin rich diet or vitamin supplementations.
Your doctor will advise you on what to eat, how much to eat and the vitamin supplements you require.