Eating a healthy, varied diet in pregnancy will help you get most of the vitamins and minerals you need.

But when you’re pregnant or there’s a chance you might get pregnant, you should take a folic acid supplement.

It’s recommended that you take: 

  • 400 micrograms of folic acid each day – from before you’re pregnant until you’re 12 weeks pregnant

This is to reduce the risk of problems in the baby’s development in the early weeks of pregnancy.

The Department of Health and Social Care also advises you to consider taking a vitamin D supplement.

Do not take vitamin A supplements or any supplements containing vitamin A (retinol), as too much could harm your baby. Always check the label.

Vitamin D in pregnancy

All adults, including pregnant and breastfeeding women, need 10 micrograms of vitamin D a day and should consider taking a supplement containing this amount.

Vitamin D regulates the amount of calcium and phosphate in the body, which are needed to keep bones, teeth and muscles healthy. 

Our bodies make vitamin D when our skin is exposed to summer sunlight (from late March/early April to the end of September). 

It’s not known exactly how much time is needed in the sun to make enough vitamin D to meet the body’s needs, but if you’re out in the sun, take care to cover up or protect your skin with sunscreen before you start to turn red or burn.

Vitamin D is also in some foods, including:

  • oily fish (such as salmon, mackerel, herring and sardines)
  • eggs
  • red meat

Vitamin D is added to all infant formula milk, as well as some breakfast cereals, fat spreads and non-dairy milk alternatives. The amounts added to these products can vary and might only be small.  

As vitamin D is found only in a small number of foods, whether naturally or added, it might be difficult to get enough from foods alone.

Everyone over the age of 5, including pregnant and breastfeeding women, should consider taking a daily supplement containing 10 micrograms of vitamin D.

Most people aged 5 and over in the UK will probably get enough vitamin D from sunlight in the summer, so you might choose not to take a vitamin D supplement during these months.

You can get vitamin supplements containing vitamin D free of charge if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding and qualify for the Healthy Start scheme.

Folic acid before and during pregnancy

You should take a 400 micrograms folic acid tablet every day before you’re pregnant and until you’re 12 weeks pregnant.

Folic acid can help prevent birth defects known as neural tube defects, including spina bifida.

If you did not take folic acid before you conceived, you should start as soon as you find out you’re pregnant. 

You should also eat foods that contain folate (the natural form of folic acid), such as green leafy vegetables.

Some breakfast cereals and some fat spreads, such as margarine, may have folic acid added to them. 

It’s difficult to get the amount of folate recommended for a healthy pregnancy from food alone, which is why it’s important to take a folic acid supplement.