Vitamins and minerals in pregnancy

Although many women get the necessary vitamins and minerals from their diet, sometimes supplements are needed.                                

Folic Acid

Professionals should use any appropriate opportunity to advise women trying to conceive, or who may become pregnant, that they can reduce the risk of a neural tube defect in their baby by taking folic acid supplements (400 micrograms (μg) daily) before pregnancy and for the first 12 weeks. Taking folic acid supplements will reduce the risk of neural tube defects such as spina bifida.

Vitamin D

Vitamin D deficiency impairs the absorption of dietary calcium and phosphorus, which can give rise to bone deformities in children, and bone pain and tenderness as a result of osteomalacia in adults. 

In August 2011, Sir Harry Burns, Chief Medical Officer, wrote to Health Professionals in Scotland to remind them of the importance of making people at risk of deficiency aware of the importance of getting enough vitamin D and how they can access daily supplements where necessary

All pregnant women, especially teenage and younger women, are particularly at risk of vitamin D deficiency. Pregnant women need to ensure their own requirement for vitamin D is met and to build adequate foetal stores for early infancy.

Vitamin D is created from modest exposure to direct Ultraviolet B (UVB) sunlight. Regular, short periods of UVB exposure without sunscreen during the summer months are enough for most people. However, pregnant women may not be able to get enough vitamin D in this way. In addition, as Scotland is north of 52 degrees latitude, during the winter months there is insufficient exposure to UVB rays.

Sun exposure

It is important for everyone to be aware that longer exposure to the sun, especially for prolonged unprotected periods, increases the risk of skin cancer. Staying covered up and using sunscreen (with UVB factor of 15 or above) is important for most people spending time outside. And it is important to cover up or protect the skin before it starts to turn red or burn.

Vitamin D and diet

Certain foods in the diet contribute to vitamin D levels. Vitamin D can be found naturally in oily fish (such as salmon, mackerel and sardines) and in eggs and meat. Manufacturers are also required to add it to margarine* and to infant formula milk. Some manufacturers add it voluntarily to breakfast cereals, soya products, some dairy products, powdered milks and low-fat spreads; however, it is often a minimal amount. The average daily intake for most women from the diet is just 2-4μg, therefore it is difficult for most women to obtain enough vitamin D from diet alone. It is therefore recommended that all pregnant women take a Vitamin D supplement of 10μg per day.

NHS Health Scotland have produced a booklet for professionals and the public to highlights the benefits of getting enough Vitamin D as part of healthy diet.

For detailed advice on vitamins and minerals during pregnancy see the Healthy Start website  

*UK legislation requires margarine to be fortified with vitamin D. While fat spreads with a fat content of less than 80% are not subject to this requirement, some manufacturers voluntarily fortify these products with vitamin D. For more information visit the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN) website 

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