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As you know, there is a lot going on in your body when you’re pregnant – your body is adapting to the incredible fact that you’re growing a baby! Nutrition plays a huge part in keeping you healthy and supporting your baby’s healthy development. But with so many mixed messages as to what is or isn’t healthy it can be hard to know what you actually need to be eating. This article contains really useful information about the vitamins and minerals you need in your diet whilst you are pregnant, which foods you can find them in and why they are important for you and your baby.

Micronutrients

Micronutrients are the vitamins and minerals that your body needs to stay healthy. Many nutrients work together. For example vitamin C is needed in big enough quantities to help our bodies absorb the iron from food, and vitamin D helps your body to absorb calcium.

Vitamin C and vitamin B-complex are water-soluble, meaning they are not stored in the body for long and need to be eaten regularly for a healthy pregnancy. Vitamins A, D, E and K are fat soluble and can be stored in body tissues for up to 6 months.

Most people do not get enough micronutrients in their diets.

The most recent UK National Diet and Nutrition Survey showed that 9 in 10 women did not meet the lower reference nutrient intake for magnesium, iodine, zinc, calcium vitamin A or iron. In other words 9 in 10 women are not getting enough of these nutrients!

Whilst supplements have their place, eating a colourful, varied and fresh diet is the most effective and enjoyable way to increase the micronutrients you consume. The following table tells you where you can find different micronutrients, and how much you need for a healthy and balanced diet. If you would like to learn more about nutrition check out the Reinvent Course in our shop.


Vitamin A


Why is vitamin A important?

Vitamin A supports the proper development of the immune system and healthy skin and eyes. Most women do not get enough vitamin A in their diets. There are two forms of vitamin A:

  • Retinol – comes from animal sources
  • Carotine – comes from plant sources

How much do I need?

  • 700 micrograms (mcg) or 0.7 milligrams (mg) during pregnancy
  • 950 micrograms (mcg) or 0.6 milligrams (mg) when breastfeeding
Warning

Too much retinol in pregnancy can be harmful to your baby so it’s important to limit your intake. See foods to avoid in pregnancy.

Good sources of vitamin A

  • Broccoli (60 mcg per 75 g serving)
  • Carrots (1000 mcg per medium carrot)
  • Eggs (110 mcg per egg)
  • Salmon (59 mcg per 100 g serving)
  • Sweet potato (1,400 mcg per whole potato)
  • Whole milk (58 mcg per half pint)

Vitamin E


Why is it important?

Vitamin E regulates hormones and increases the effect of vitamin A, selenium, and essential fatty acids. Vitamin E is a potent antioxidant which protects against cell membrane damage and can protect your baby against developing asthma and allergies later in life.

As vitamin E is one of the essential elements in the skin’s natural regeneration and maintenance system, making sure you get the recommended daily allowance is a sensible precaution to minimise stretch marks.

How much do I need?

4 – 5 mg per day in pregnancy and whilst you are breastfeeding

Good sources of vitamin E

  • Almonds (7.2 mg per 30g serving)
  • Avocado (2.1 mg per 100 g serving)
  • Spinach (3.74 mg per 180 g serving – when cooked)
  • Sunflower seeds (12 mg per 35 g serving)
  • Swiss chard (3.31 mg per 175 g serving)

Vitamin D


Why is it important?

Vitamin D works alongside manganese, calcium, phosphorous and magnesium in helping build your baby’s bones. It also stimulates the production of collagen and immune cells.

Vitamin D plays a direct role in learning, memory and mood and low levels are associated with antenatal and postnatal depression. Low vitamin D status is associated with an increased risk of pre-eclampsia.

How much do I need?

600 – 2,000 IU (international units) or 15 – 50 mcg

Warning

70% of women in the UK don’t have enough vitamin D. We get vitamin D naturally from sunlight on our skin, but the sun in the UK during autumn and winter is not strong enough to give us the amount of vitamin D we need.

NICE Guidelines advise that women should take a vitamin D supplement during pregnancy. See recommended supplements during pregnancy.

Good sources of vitamin D

  • Sunshine (perfect excuse for a holiday!)
  • Beef (42 iu per 100 g serving)
  • Cod liver oil (1,360 iu per tablespoon serving)
  • Mushrooms (up to 400 iu per 100 g serving)
  • Salmon (477 iu per 85 g serving)
  • Tinned sardines (46 iu per 2 sardines)
  • Whole milk (124 iu per 250 ml serving)

Vitamin K


Why is it important?

Vitamin K is required for normal blood clotting – this is essential for labour. It also helps lay down calcium in your baby’s bones.

The Department of Health recommends that all babies are given vitamin K as soon as they are born, read more here.

How much do I need?

It depends on how much you weigh. You ideally need 1 mcg per 1 kg that you weigh, so if you weigh 60 kg you will need 60 mcg daily.

Good sources of vitamin K

  • Alfalfa sprouts (30.5 mcg per 100 g serving)
  • Broccoli (220 mcg per 100 g serving)
  • Green leafy vegetables (817 mcg per 100 g serving)
  • Sauerkraut (13 mcg per 100 g serving)

Folate


Why is it important?

Folate is needed for creating DNA in babies, developing cells and the production of red blood cells. Folic acid (one of the folates) deficiency in pregnancy is linked with

  • Neural tube defects (such as spina bifida)
  • Small babies (which can lead to other health issues)
  • Cleft lip and palate.

Healthy folate levels have been shown to reduce the risk of antenatal depression and lower the risk of autism disorders.

Routine advice is for women to take a folic acid supplement until 12 weeks of pregnancy. But recent research clearly shows that it is better to eat Folate-rich foods. Synthetic folic acid does not cross the placenta in the same way as the folate naturally occurring in food does, so it is important to consume as much of your folate as possible from food or food state vitamins. It is still advisable to take Folic Acid supplements, as advised by your GP or midwife.

How much do I need?

The UK guideline is

  • 400 mcg daily for the first 12 weeks of pregnancy
  • 260 mcg daily when breastfeeding

Most other countries recommend higher doses, with the USA stating that pregnant women should have at least 600 mcg daily during pregnancy.

Good sources of Folate

  • Broccoli (65 – 85 mcg per 100 g serving)
  • Chickpeas (140 mcg per 65 g serving)
  • Green leafy vegetables (65 – 85 mcg per 200 g serving)
  • Lentils (150 mcg per 65 g serving)
  • Milk (15 mcg per 250 ml serving)
  • Peas (20 mcg per teaspoon)

Potassium


Why is it important?

Potassium plays an important role in maintaining our bodies electrolyte balance and therefore adequate quantities are needed to maintain good blood pressure and prevent fluid retention during your third trimester. You potassium levels can drop if you suffer from vomiting (morning sickness) and stress, which can lead to restless leg syndrome and muscle cramps. See common pregnancy symptoms, managing morning sickness, benefits of exercise in pregnancy.

How much do I need?

  • 4,700 mg daily during pregnancy
  • 5,100 mg daily when breastfeeding

Good sources of Potassium

  • Banana (425 mg per medium-sized fruit)
  • Kiwi (240 mg per fruit)
  • Mango (325 mg per medium-sized fruit)
  • Papaya (390 mg per half a fruit)
  • Pear (200 mg per fruit)
  • Prune juice (370 mg per 120 ml serving)
  • Raisins (270 mg per 75 g serving)

Vitamin B12


Why is it important?

Vitamin B12 is essential for the production of healthy red blood cells and therefore of particular importance during pregnancy when your blood volume increases. Vitamin B12 works very closely with folate and moderates homocysteine levels. High homocysteine levels during pregnancy can slow the growth of your unborn baby and increase the risk of miscarriage. Low homocysteine levels are linked with depression. Vitamin B12 is also important for milk production and supply.

How much do I need?

  • At least 1.5 mcg per day during pregnancy
  • At least 2 mcg per day when breastfeeding

Good sources of vitamin B12

  • Beef (1.5 mcg per 100 g serving)
  • Eggs (0.6 mcg per egg)
  • Milk (0.9 – 1.2 mcg per 250 ml serving)
  • Oily fish ( 4 – 6 mcg per 100 g serving)
  • Yeast extract (0.6 – 2 mcg per 4 g serving)

Vitamin C


Why is it important?

Vitamin C is important to help wounds heal and to help fight off infection. It also supports the growth of new tissue including bones, teeth and skin.

How much do I need?

  • 50 mg daily during pregnancy
  • 70 mg daily when breastfeeding

Good sources of vitamin C

  • Broccoli (51 mg per 30 g serving)
  • Frozen peas (22 mg per 100 g serving)
  • Green leafy vegetables ( 80 mg per 100 g serving)
  • Kiwi (64 mg per fruit)
  • Red peppers (95 mg per 75 g serving)
  • Sweet potatoes (19 mg per 100 g serving)

Zinc


Why is it important?

Zinc supports cell division and is vital for the production of white blood cells for your baby’s nervous and immune systems. Zinc helps modulate hormone levels and so making sure you have enough zinc in your diet may help reduce mood swings and morning sickness. Your zinc levels decrease when you use oral contraceptives.

How much do I need?

  • 7 mg daily during pregnancy
  • 13 mg daily in the first four months of breastfeeding
  • 9.5 mg daily from four months of breastfeeding onwards

Good sources of Zinc

  • Brazil nuts (4.2 mg per 100 g serving)
  • Ginger (6.8 mg per 100 g serving)
  • Lamb (4.7 mg per 100 g serving)
  • Oats (3.2 mg per 100 g serving)
  • Pecans (4.5 mg per 100 g serving)
  • Pumpkin seeds (7.5 mg per 100 g serving)
  • Rye (3.2 mg per 100 g serving)

Iron


Why is it important?

Iron is required for healthy brain development and building a healthy blood supply. Women are routinely screened for iron-deficiency anaemia during pregnancy.

Did you know?
  • Vitamin C helps to increase how much iron is absorbed by your body
  • caffeinated drinks, calcium supplements and antacids block iron from being absorbed by your body
  • It is estimated that only 20% of the iron available in our food is absorbed into our body, in a typical western diet which highlights the need to plan your eating to ensure optimal iron absorption.

How much do I need?

14.8 mg daily during pregnancy and whilst breastfeeding

Good sources of Iron

Iron from red meat is more easily absorbed than iron from pulses and plants and the darker the meat, the more iron it contains.

  • Spinach (2.7mg per 100g)
  • Grass-fed-beef (2mg per 100g)
  • Eggs (0.6mg per large egg)
  • Lentils (3.3mg per 100g)
  • Dried apricots (2.7mg per 100g)

Selenium


Why is it important?

Selenium protects against chromosome breakages, which can cause miscarriages and birth defects in your baby. Low levels of selenium in your diet are linked to an increased risk of your baby developing eczema and asthma.

How much do I need?

  • At least 60 mcg during pregnancy
  • At least 75 mcg when breastfeeding

Good sources of Selenium

  • Brazil nuts (400 mcg per 100 g serving)
  • Eggs (15 mcg per 100 g serving)
  • Red meat (30 mcg per 100 g serving)
  • Wheat germ (111 mcg per 100 g serving)

Magnesium


Why is it important?

Magnesium plays an important part in more than 300 enzyme systems that regulate a wide range of biochemical reactions in your body, including producing proteins, muscle and nerve function, blood glucose control, and blood pressure regulation.

Did you know?
  • 70% of women in the UK are deficient in magnesium

Magnesium is required to fix calcium into bones and for strong muscle contractions during labour. Healthy levels of this mineral have been shown to reduce nausea and vomiting and reduce the risk of pre-eclampsia and restless leg syndrome.

Magnesium is depleted by oral contraceptives and our soil does not contain the levels it used to, as a result of intensive farming.

How much do I need?

  • 400 mg daily during pregnancy
  • 380 mg daily when breastfeeding

Good sources of Magnesium

  • Almonds (270 mg per 100 g serving)
  • Apricots(62 mg per 100 g serving)
  • Brown rice (90 mg per 100 g serving)
  • Brazil nuts (225 mg per 100 g serving)
  • Cashew nuts (267 mg per 100 g serving)
  • Coconut meat (90 mg per 100 g serving)
  • Collard leaves (57 mg per 100 g serving)
  • Crab meat (34 mg per 100 g serving)
  • Figs (71 mg per 100 g serving)
  • Green leafy vegetables (78 mg per 100 g serving)
  • Kelp (760 mg per 100 g serving)
  • Millet (162 mg per 100 g serving)

Calcium


Why is it important?

Calcium is needed for a healthy nervous function, muscle contractions, blood clotting and for making healthy bones and teeth. Over the course of your pregnancy you transfer over 30g of calcium to your baby. If you don’t have enough calcium in your diet during this time, then the calcium will be taken from your bones and teeth to support your growing baby.

Did you know?

Dental treatment is free for women during pregnancy and the baby’s first year because it is so common for teeth to become damaged during this time.

In order for calcium to be well absorbed into your body you must also have plenty of magnesium in your diet. Whilst dairy products are rich in calcium, they don’t have a good calcium / magnesium ratio which means that you don’t absorb as much calcium as you are drinking or eating. Green leafy vegetables and other plant sources have a better calcium / magnesium ratio, which means that by eating them your body will absorb more calcium.

How much do I need?

  • 700 mg daily during pregnancy
  • 1,250 mg daily when breastfeeding

Good sources of Calcium

  • Broccoli (21 mg per 100 g serving)
  • Cabbage (74 mg per 100 g serving)
  • Cheddar cheese (750 mg per 100 g serving)
  • Collard greens (250 mg per 100 g serving)
  • Kelp (1,093 mg per 100 g serving)
  • Sardines (325 mg per 100 g serving)
  • Turnips (246 mg per 100 g serving)
  • Watercress (151 mg per 100 g serving)
  • Whole milk (276 mg per 100 g serving)

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