1. Vitamin A
What it’s for:
This vitamin is needed for a strong immune system and the development
of healthy skin and eyes. One of the first signs of vitamin A
deficiency is night blindness, which is an inability to see in dim
light. More severe deficiency can result in permanent eye damage. It is
also important for the development of your baby’s lungs.
Amount needed: During pregnancy you need about 700µg of vitamin A (retinol equivalents1) per day. This increases to 950µg per day while breastfeeding.
Where it’s found:
There are two forms of vitamin A: retinol and beta-carotene. Retinol is
found in animal products, including eggs and milk, and beta-carotene is
found in carrots and other orange fruit and vegetables.
||Vitamin A (µg) per 100g
||Vitamin A per portion
||75µg per half-pint/300ml
||110µg per egg
||1,780µg per 80g portion
||19µg per 80g portion
||100µg per three apricots
||435µg per 150g slice
of beta-carotene has the effect of approximately 6ug of retinol. The
vitamin A content of the foods containing beta-carotene is given here
as retinol equivalents. They don’t contain any retinol, but this allows
direct comparison with the level of vitamin A that is recommended.
Source: Data taken from the UK Nutrient Databank © Crown copyright 2012
Although you need some vitamin A, if you have too much, the levels in
your body can build up, which can be a problem. Vitamin A in the form
of retinol is teratogenic – a high intake (more than about 3,300µg per
day) is associated with an increase in birth defects. This is why
pregnant women should avoid liver, fish liver oils (e.g. cod liver oil)
and other supplements containing large amounts of retinol. It is
perfectly safe to eat other foods containing retinol, such as milk and
eggs, as they contain less than 1% of the concentration found in liver.
You can also eat foods containing beta-carotene without worrying; the
worst effect this could have is to make your skin look slightly orange.
Some experts believe that women need to increase their intake of
beta-carotene during pregnancy, as vitamin A deficiency can be a real
risk, particularly in women having twins or having babies close
2. Folic acid
What it’s for:
Folic acid is one of the B vitamins and reduces the risk of your baby
developing a neural tube defect, such as spina bifida. It also reduces
the risk of cleft palate and harelip, and it works with vitamin B12 to form healthy red blood cells.
Women who aren’t pregnant or planning to have a baby need 200µg of
folic acid per day. This increases to 300µg a day during pregnancy and
260µg per day if you are breastfeeding. You should also take a folic
acid supplement before pregnancy and for the first 12 weeks .
Vegetarians have higher folic acid intakes than non-vegetarians, but
supplements are recommended for everyone, as it is almost impossible to
get enough folic acid, in a form that is easily absorbed, from food
Where it’s found:
Folic acid is found naturally as folate in many fruits and vegetables.
However, it is easily lost. For example, frozen peas contain 78µg of
folate per 100g, but if you boil them in a pan of water this goes down
to just 33µg per 100g. To preserve the folate, it is best to microwave,
steam, cook in small amounts of water or add vegetables to dishes such
as curry, where there is no cooking water to throw away. Folic acid is
also added to many processed foods including some breakfast cereals,
bread and yeast extract. Different brands are fortified with different
||Folate (µg) per 100g
||Folate per portion
||60µg per 80g portion
||44µg per 80g portion
||50µg per medium orange
||25µg per half-pint/ 300ml
||100µg per 4g portion
||80µg per 4g portion
|Fruit and fibre cereal
||50–100µg per 40g bowl
||120–160µg per 40g bowl
||30µg per 50g portion|