What Vitamins and Supplements Should I Take During Pregnancy?

Reviewed on 9/17/2021

Even if you eat a variety of nutritious foods, you may need to take pregnancy vitamins and supplements. This is especially true if you have a restricted diet, are pregnant with twins or multiples, have food allergies, or nutrient deficiencies. Talk to your doctor about your needs.
Even if you eat a variety of nutritious foods, you may need to take pregnancy vitamins and supplements. This is especially true if you have a restricted diet, are pregnant with twins or multiples, have food allergies, or nutrient deficiencies. Talk to your doctor about your needs.

Eating a well-balanced diet is important during your pregnancy. What you eat and drink has an impact on your baby and your body. Learn about pregnancy vitamins and supplements you should take to help ensure you have a healthy pregnancy and baby.

Why take pregnancy vitamins and supplements?

Even if you eat a variety of nutritious foods, you may need to take pregnancy vitamins and supplements.

You may need vitamins and supplements if you:

  • Have food allergies or dietary restrictions, such as a vegan diet
  • Don’t eat a well-balanced diet. Your doctor may recommend supplements if your diet is low in nutrients.
  • Are pregnant with twins or other multiples
  • Have nutrient deficiencies
  • Smoke or abuse alcohol or drugs

Important nutrients during pregnancy

A healthy diet during your pregnancy will benefit you and promote your baby’s development. Talk to your doctor about supplements to make sure they're necessary and safe for you and your baby.

Folate or Folic Acid

Folate is the natural form of vitamin B9. It's found in many foods. When it’s a supplement or added to foods, it’s known as folic acid.

Folate helps prevent neural tube defects. The neural tube develops into your baby’s brain and spine. These birth defects happen very early in pregnancy, often before you know that you’re pregnant. The two most common neural tube defects are spina bifida (spinal cord defect) and anencephaly (head and brain).

Folate is found in different foods, including:

  • Legumes, like peas and dried beans
  • Leafy, dark green vegetables such as spinach, romaine lettuce, and broccoli 
  • Whole grains
  • Fresh fruits and juices
  • Breakfast cereals
  • Liver
  • Seafood
  • Fortified foods

If you’re pregnant or breastfeeding, you should get 600 micrograms of folate a day. It’s hard to get this amount from food, so doctors usually recommend a folic acid supplement.

Important nutrients during pregnancy (continued)

Calcium

During pregnancy, you need calcium for your growing baby’s bones and teeth. If you don’t get enough calcium, your body will still give calcium to your baby — but it will get taken from your bones, which can harm your health.

Women who are 19 or older need 1,000 milligrams of calcium a day. Those aged 18 or under need 1,300 milligrams a day.

Pregnant women who don’t get enough calcium may have complications including: 

Iron

Your body needs iron to produce hemoglobin. This is a protein in red blood cells that carries oxygen. During pregnancy, the growth of your baby and placenta means more iron is needed.

Pregnant women should get 27 milligrams of iron a day. Iron-deficiency anemia is common in pregnant women.

Signs of iron-deficiency anemia include: 

Anemia increases your risk of:

  • Having a low birth-weight baby
  • Preterm birth
  • Infections after you give birth (postpartum infections)

If you may have iron-deficiency anemia, your doctor may prescribe oral iron supplements. You can also get iron from different types of food. Some good animal sources of iron include: 

  • Canned sardines
  • Beef
  • Poultry
  • Beef or chicken liver
  • Clams, mussels, and oysters
  • Organ meats

Plant sources of iron include: 

  • Enriched rice or bread
  • Fortified breakfast cereals
  • Beans and lentils
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Spinach
  • Potato with the skin on

SLIDESHOW

13 Early Signs & Symptoms of Pregnancy See Slideshow

Important nutrients during pregnancy (continued)

Vitamin D

Vitamin D can be found in some foods. It’s also made by your body when your skin is exposed to sunlight. Your baby’s vitamin D levels depend largely on how much you get.

Research has found vitamin D deficiency is more common among:

  • Vegetarians
  • Women with limited sun exposure
  • Women with darker skin

Taking vitamin D supplements during pregnancy may help protect against:

Most prenatal vitamins have about 400 international units of vitamin D. If you have a vitamin D deficiency, your doctor may prescribe supplements of about 1,000 to 2,000 international units a day.

Choline

This nutrient helps support the development of your baby’s brain. It may also help prevent some birth defects.

Pregnant women should get 450 micrograms of choline a day. Less than 10% of pregnant women get enough choline, however. Not all prenatal vitamins contain choline.

Choline can be found in both animal and plant sources like:

  • Peanuts
  • Soy products
  • Milk
  • Eggs
  • Beef liver

Iodine

Iodine is important for your baby’s brain development. Pregnant women should get 220 micrograms of iodine a day. Not all prenatal vitamins contain iodine. 

Iodine can be found in: 

  • Iodized table salt
  • Dairy products
  • Eggs
  • Meat
  • Seafood

When to see your doctor

Talk to your doctor before taking any pregnancy supplements. Taking too much of some nutrients during pregnancy, such as vitamin A, can cause birth defects.

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References
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists: "Nutrition During Pregnancy," "Vitamin D: Screening and Supplementation During Pregnancy."

The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition: "Use of dietary supplements by pregnant and lactating women in North America."

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: "Neural tube defects."

Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews: "Vitamin D supplementation for women during pregnancy."

Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health: The Nutrition Source: “Folate (Folic Acid) – Vitamin B9,” “Iron.” Mayo Clinic: "Preeclampsia."

Merck Manual: "Anemia in Pregnancy."

National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases: "Pregnancy, Breastfeeding and Bone Health."

Nutrients: "Choline: Exploring the Growing Science on Its Benefits for Moms and Babies."

Nutrition Reviews: "Role of calcium during pregnancy: maternal and fetal needs."

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