Important: This is intended as general information only. It may not apply to your specific situation. It is not a substitute for medical advice. If you have a question or concern, please raise it with me at your next appointment or contact me sooner if it's urgent.
Vitamins in Pregnancy
You may have been told that it is ‘vital’ that you take a pregnancy multivitamin. If you eat a healthy balanced diet, then a multivitamin probably does not add much. If you’re actually deficient in an essential nutrient (such as iron or vitamin D), then chances are that the dose of that nutrient in your multivitamin won’t be high enough to solve the problem.
There are two exceptions to this – folate (folic acid) and iodine. Both of these are essential for the development of your baby’s brain and nervous system, so it’s really important that you are getting enough. In addition, your daily requirements of folate and iodine increase during pregnancy. Many modern diets don’t contain adequate folate and iodine. For these reasons, folate and iodine supplementation is recommended for all pregnant women – it’s a sensible precaution even if you have a really good diet. For most people, the simplest way of taking folate and iodine supplements is to take a pregnancy multivitamin. If you find these hard to take, you can take a supplement that contains folate and iodine only (available from your pharmacy) which comes in a much smaller tablet.
Some women may require a higher dose of folate than is found in standard multivitamins. This includes women who have had a baby with a neural tube defect in the past or women with epilepsy and diabetes. Having good folate levels is most important in the very early weeks of the pregnancy so it is recommended that anyone planning a pregnancy should commence folate supplements at least one month before falling pregnant.
Many women tell me that they like to take a pregnancy multivitamin as it allows them to worry less about whether or not they are eating a balanced diet. This certainly seems reasonable, particularly as many pregnant women experience food aversions or cravings and their diets change. Remember that a healthy balanced diet means eating well most of the time – of course you’re allowed to have the occasional treat of your favourite comfort food…just keep it occasional and you won’t run into any trouble.
Many women are found to be low in iron or vitamin D during the pregnancy. In these cases, the amounts of iron and vitamin D in the pregnancy multivitamins are not usually adequate and a separate iron or vitamin D supplement is required. See the Anaemia and Iron Deficiency and Vitamin D Deficiency pages for more information.
So, in summary, multivitamins (despite the advertising) are not essential, and a normal balanced diet is better than a multivitamin. However, it is recommended that you take extra folate and iodine, even if you have a good diet. The easiest way to do this is by taking a specific pregnancy multivitamin. However, taking folate and iodine alone is perfectly adequate.