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Vitamins and other nutritional supplements in Pregnancy

There is a lot of confusion among pregnant mothers about what is desirable, useful or free of potential harm when it comes to nutritional supplements during pregnancy. It is the desire of most protective parents to do anything that will help them experience a healthy pregnancy and bring forth a baby in the best possible state of health.

Let’s face it; this state of confusion is not confined to prospective parents only. A lot of health professionals who are supposed to give advice aren’t so sure-footed when it comes to the issues surrounding vitamins and other nutritional supplements during pregnancy.

For the general population, there is no doubt that there are a number of high quality nutritional supplements out there. As a broad statement, it is important to be aware that many supplements are harmless but, arguably, of little value to most pregnant mothers. Some supplements are potentially useful and, for some mothers, crucial in ensuring a good pregnancy outcome. A few supplements are potentially harmful especially in high doses.

Here, we aim to clarify which supplement falls in which group to clear the air. There is a lot of misinformation out there.

Vitamin supplements in Pregnancy

There are two broad groups of vitamins. The four Vitamins A, D, E and K are fat-soluble. The rest, that is the B group and C are water-soluble. The importance of the distinction is that water-soluble vitamins are not stored in the body so regular replenishment is essential.

The B Group: There are eight different vitamins which fall in this group. These are:

We do not intend to go into details about the role of each of these.  The logic behind the numbering of the B group vitamins is of historical importance only and details of that, for those interested, can be found elsewhere.

Which Vitamins in Pregnancy?

Vitamin A in Pregnancy:

This fat-soluble vitamin is essential for good vision. The commonest problem associated with Vitamin A deficiency is Night Blindness.  Deficiency in modern times is very rare and it is difficult to justify supplements of this Vitamin during pregnancy. Moreover, high doses of Retinol which is the form of Vitamin A found in animal sources (liver, cod liver oil etc) are known to be harmful to the baby especially if consumed in the early weeks of pregnancy. Birth defects could result. The plant-sourced Vitamin A (beta-carotene) is safe.

Vitamin D in Pregnancy:

Adequate intake of Vitamin D in pregnancy is essential for the future well-being of the child. Vitamin D is manufactured in the skin when exposed to sunlight. There is a recognised problem of Vitamin D deficiency among women who are rarely exposed to the sun and those who dress by covering practically the whole body.

The recommended Vitamin D supplement intake is 10 mcg (400IU). However, it is increasingly evident that this may be inadequate during pregnancy especially for those women who do not get the vitamin from the natural sources.

Deficiency of Vitamin D during pregnancy means the baby is born with poorly mineralised bones and in severe cases could result in rickets.

The poor bone mineral density that result from Vitamin D deficiency puts the children on the road to possible development of osteoporosis and bone fracture risk later in life.

There is also emerging credible evidence that deficiency of Vitamin D during pregnancy might increase the risk of pre-eclampsia, one of the most serious pregnancy complications.

This is on top of research findings which have associated Vitamin D deficiency in pregnancy to increased risk of development of diabetes for the child. There is also evidence  that the deficiency may increase risk of developing Multiple Sclerosis.

All in all, Vitamin D supplementation during pregnancy is clearly beneficial and something to be encouraged. Of-course, for those who can get adequate exposure to sunlight; that is the best and most reliable source of Vitamin D. However, sometime this is impractical especially in temperate countries of the North during bleak winter months.

Vitamins E, K, C, B1 and Folic Acid in Pregnancy: Next Page

Sunshine is a good Vitamin D source

Exposure to sunshine is the most reliable source of Vitamin D

By Dr J Kabyemela, MD