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You need twice as much folic acid during pregnancy than at any other time. Folic acid is the synthetic form of the naturally occurring B vitamin folate, which is found mainly in green leafy vegetables and wholegrains. Folic acid is more readily absorbed than folate, and is also used more efficiently in the body.
Folic acid is needed by rapidly dividing cells and good intakes are vital, especially during the first trimester, to help protect against a type of developmental abnormality known as a neural tube defect (such as spina bifida) which arises between the 24th and 28th day after conception. The Department of Health recommends that you take 400mcg folic acid every day from before trying to conceive until you are 12 weeks pregnant (I suggest continuing until the end of pregnancy, too). You should also eat foods that provide folate such as green leafy vegetables, brown rice and fortified foods (such as cereals) as part of a healthy diet.
Vitamin D is needed for the absorption of calcium from food, and is also important for general immunity. The Department of Health now recommends that you take 10mcg of vitamin D per day during pregnancy and when breastfeeding (to boost calcium absorption, and to protect against infant rickets). Look for the form known as vitamin D3, as this is more readily absorbed and used by the body than vitamin D2.
A multivitamin and mineral supplement designed for pregnancy and breastfeeding is a good way to get the folic acid, vitamin D and other key nutrients you need at this time to safeguard against deficiencies that can, for example, increase feelings of tiredness. Supplements designed for pregnancy will not contain vitamin A, and usually have boosted levels of B vitamins, including folic acid, and vitamin D.
The long-chain omega-3 essential fatty acids found in oily fish are especially important for a baby’s developing brain, eyes and nervous system. It is important to only take a DHA-rich omega-3 supplement designed for use in pregnancy, to ensure you get the right blend of essential fatty acids. It should be noted that women who are pregnant should avoid taking cod liver oil supplements, as these contain high amounts of vitamin A which are best avoided during pregnancy.
At any stage of life, it is important to eat a healthy balanced diet, but this is even more important if you are pregnant or trying to conceive. Eating nourishing foods will give you the most nutrients which will help assist your baby’s growth and development.
There is no special diet as such for pregnancy, but this is a time when you should get the basics right. This includes:
Also, remember you are not eating for two: the additional energy required during pregnancy is between 300 and 400 calories per day. You certainly do not need to focus on calories during pregnancy but try not to overeat, as this may lead to unnecessary weight gain.
There are certain foods to avoid when pregnant to help protect your health. These include:
The previous advice regarding peanuts in pregnancy was to avoid them if there was a history of allergy in the immediate family, such as asthma, eczema, or a food allergy. This advice has now changed, because there is no clear evidence to prove that eating peanuts during pregnancy may increase the risk of your baby developing a peanut allergy.
Regarding supplements, I would advise choosing a preparation designed for pregnancy, to ensure that you are not unwittingly getting a heavy dose of vitamin A in your diet. Always seek trustworthy advice when taking supplements during pregnancy.
Nothing beats a healthy, balanced diet to provide all the nutrients we need. But when this isn't possible, supplements can help. This article isn't intended to replace medical advice. Please consult your healthcare professional before trying supplements or herbal medicines.