Antenatal vitamins are vitamin and mineral nutritional supplements specially formulated for women who are pregnant, are planning a pregnancy or are breastfeeding.
Do I need antenatal vitamins?
The NHS recommends that women who are planning a pregnancy should be given pre-conception advice which includes information on folic acid and vitamin D supplements.
However, the Royal College of Midwives stresses that antenatal vitamins do not take the place of healthy eating.
Antenatal vitamins and supplements information
In some areas, and depending on their eligibility, pregnant women should be able to receive free antenatal vitamins under the Healthy Start scheme. The vitamins provided under the Healthy Start scheme contain vitamin C (70mg/tablet), vitamin D (10 micrograms/tablet) and folic acid (400micrograms/tablet). You should check with your GP or midwife if you qualify for free antenatal vitamins.
Folic acid is essential for the development of the neural tube of the baby, the structure that forms the brain and spinal cord. Lack of, or too little, folic acid in the mother’s diet can lead to birth defects called neural tube defects, for example, spina bifida. Women planning to conceive should take 400 micrograms daily at least from when they start trying to become pregnant and for the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. Even if you have not taken folic acid before becoming pregnant, you should start as soon as possible.
The NHS advises that women at high risk of neural tube defects should take a higher dose of folic acid of 5mg every day at least from when they start trying to become pregnant until they are 12 weeks pregnant, including:
- Women who have had a baby with neural tube defect in a previous pregnancy
- Those who have a neural tube defects or whose partner has
- Women whose partners have a family history of neural tube defects
- Women with diabetes
- Women who are obese with a BMI over 30.
Women on epilepsy medication who are planning to conceive or are pregnant should check with their doctor or midwife if they require a higher dose of folic acid.
Women who are expecting twins or multiples should take the same dose of folic acid as women expecting a single child, unless their GP or midwife advises otherwise.
Vitamin D plays an important role during pregnancy. It helps the baby to develop healthy bones and teeth. Recent studies have linked low levels of vitamin D in pregnancy with pregnancy diabetes and pre-eclampsia as well as low birth weight.
The NHS recommends that all pregnant and breastfeeding women should take vitamin D supplements, especially women who are at high risk of vitamin D deficiency including:
- Women with darker skin such as those of South Asian, African, Caribbean, or Middle Eastern ethnic origin.
- Women with limited sun exposure, for example, women who are predominantly housebound or who usually remain covered when outdoors.
- Women who eat a diet very low in vitamin D.
- Women who are obese pre-pregnancy (body mass index (BMI) 30 or more)
- Young women and teenagers
Antenatal vitamins warnings
Women should be advised not to take vitamin A supplements, or supplements containing or rich in vitamin A such as cod liver oil, during their pregnancy as too much vitamin A may harm the baby. If you are taking antenatal vitamins as part of a multivitamin supplement, it is important to check they do not contain vitamin A or retinol.
Pregnant women who are not anaemic do not require iron supplementation. Your GP or midwife will advise you if your iron levels become low.
Some women may feel nauseous while taking antenatal vitamins. Your GP, midwife, or pharmacist will inform you if you should change the supplement and try another formulation.