If you are pregnant, you're probably concerned about getting just the right nutrients for your growing baby; and many pregnant women wonder if they need to take supplements during pregnancy.
Generally, if you get your important vitamins and minerals from eating a wide variety of healthy pregnancy foods and if you eat well and widely, you won’t usually find the need for supplements. But of course, there are always exceptions to the rule.
You’ll need to take a folic acid supplement if you’re of childbearing age and think you might become pregnant, if you’re planning a pregnancy and for the first three months or so of your pregnancy. 0.4 micrograms (400µg) of folic acid is the recommended amount and comes handily prepackaged from pharmacies and health food stores.
There is an increasing body of research pointing to low vitamin D levels in Irish women – hardly surprising, given the lack of sunshine – and supplements have been proposed, but it’s wise to check with your healthcare provider for the latest advice.
Some diets don’t provide enough iron during your pregnancy and your stores may become low. There’s a particular kind of tiredness that comes with anaemia, and you might find yourself breathless as well. If you’re expecting twins or more, this can also drain your iron reserves. Blood tests reveal low iron levels, so it’s wise to check with your doctor or midwife. You might then be prescribed iron supplements, either in tablet or liquid form. As with any supplements, do not take additional iron without first talking to your healthcare provider.
The same advice applies to other vitamin supplements as some vitamins, such as vitamin A and D, can be harmful in large doses. Cod liver oil, for example, should be avoided as it contains high levels of retinol (vitamin A). If you’re a pregnant vegetarian or vegan, you might find yourself low on vitamin B12. As it’s found naturally only in animal products, you’ll need to eat fortified foods or yeast extract or by taking supplements, but again, only on the recommendation of your healthcare provider.
N.B. Don’t take any supplement during your pregnancy without checking with your doctor first – some nutrients can actually be harmful in large doses.
If you’ve been taking dietary supplements, for example as part of a medical treatment; talk to your healthcare provider before you stop taking them. The same applies to any other medication – always check with your GP.