Supplements in Pregnancy

By Hannah Dahlen

In pregnancy a woman’s body needs extra vitamins, minerals and nutrients to help her baby grow. In addition, the presence of some nutrients in good supply has been shown to reduce the risk of certain conditions in pregnancy.

Having a healthy diet is the best way of ensuring you are receiving the vitamins you need. That said, pregnancy is a time of great strain on the body, resulting in an increased need for nutrients such as iron, folate, iodine and protein. Also no matter how hard you try to eat well, morning sickness can result in less nutrients remaining in your body. While your body prioritises your baby’s nutrient needs, your own body can be left wanting. Taking a good quality multivitamin developed specifically for pregnancy, makes good sense. However, please consult your midwife or doctor prior to taking any supplements.

Ensuring you consume the Recommended Daily Intake (RDI) of the following vitamins and minerals, in food or supplements, is vital during pregnancy.

Iodine – RDI 150 micrograms

Iodine is essential for the proper function of your Thyroid. If your baby doesn’t get enough thyroid hormone, particularly in the first half of the pregnancy, some damage to the brain may occur. This is usually evident in a lower IQ, learning difficulties, reading difficulties and hearing difficulties. The average adult needs about 150 micrograms of iodine a day but pregnant and breastfeeding women require twice as much to meet the needs of their growing baby.

Women can get this iodine most effectively by using iodised salt rather than standard salt in food preparation. This is readily available in supermarkets. Milk and seafood are also high in iodine. In addition, in Australia the additional of iodine to all bread is a legislative requirement to help promote the health of the nation. Most pregnancy and lactation vitamin supplements have iodine in them, so if women have concerns about their iodine intake during pregnancy and when breastfeeding they can take one of these.

Iron – RDI 27 milligrams

Haemoglobin, the protein found in red blood cells, transports oxygen in the blood and is essential for keeping us alive and healthy. Red blood cells are made in your bone marrow and last about four months before they disintegrate and are replaced by new red blood cells. In order for your body to produce red blood cells you need an adequate supply in your diet of iron, as well as vitamin B12 and folic acid. If one or more of these is lacking anaemia will eventually develop.

Anaemia is by far the most common blood related problem pregnant women face and occurs when Haemoglobin drops below acceptable levels. The developing fetus draws iron from the mother to last it through the first five or six months after birth, so a woman has an increased need for iron during pregnancy. While there is a RDI for iron, the amount needed by an individual woman depends on the amount of iron stored in her body prior to pregnancy. If your iron stores were low, you may need more than the RDI of iron during pregnancy. It is important to discuss your need for supplements with a medical practitioner as iron can be toxic in large amounts.

Folate – 500 micrograms

Folate (known as folic acid when added to foods) is a B group vitamin that is needed for the healthy growth and development of your baby in the first weeks of life. Research has found taking a folic acid supplement substantially decreases the incident of neural tube defects such as spina bifida.

The current RDI of Folate in pregnancy is 500 micrograms, for at least the first three months of pregnancy. This may be taken as a supplement or in the form of fortified foods (food to which folate has been added during production). All wheat flour used in bread making in Australia must now contain folic acid, with the exception of certified organic flour. Three slices of fortified bread (100g) contains an average of 120mcg of folic acid. Breakfast cereals and fruit juices sold in Australia may also have folic acid added. However to be more certain of your intake, a supplement may be the most effective strategy.

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