Should you take supplements during pregnancy?


Iodine and folic acid are essential for pregnant mums, but there are other supplements you may want to consider, explains nutritionist Jessica Giljam-Brown.

The most important step you can take towards ensuring a healthy pregnancy and baby is to follow a nutrient-dense diet for the duration of your pregnancy. Nutrient supplementation during pregnancy can be thought of as an insurance policy to make sure you are getting the nutrients you need.

Supplements can in no way replace a healthy diet – it is impossible to get everything you need in a tablet form – but they’re a great way to top up on the essential nutrients for baby’s development.

There are two supplements which are labelled as essential for pregnancy the world over: Iodine and folate. Then there are also several other nutrients that are widely accepted as nutrients which should be supplemented during pregnancy due to their importance to foetal development.

In most instances, it is best to get the nutrients you need from your food, but sometimes this just isn’t practical or realistic. To get all the nutrients in the recommended amounts for the entirety of your pregnancy would take extremely careful planning and dedication. When morning sickness, fatigue, and cravings come into play, it’s nice to know that you have the important nutrients covered.


Iodine is essential for the development of baby’s brain, nervous system, and thyroid, and should be supplemented throughout pregnancy and breastfeeding. It is recommended that pregnant and breastfeeding mothers take 150 micrograms per day as well as adding iodine-rich foods to their diet. Iodine is found in seafood, seaweed, milk, eggs, and fortified cereals, it is a good idea to switch to iodised table salt during your pregnancy.

Folic acid

Folic acid is critical in the formation of new cells and is particularly important when the foetus’s brain and spine are forming. Folic acid de ciency can cause spina bifida, a deformation of the spine which can lead to paralysis and lifelong complications. It is recommended that all pregnant women take a folic acid supplement (0.8mg/day) every day for one month before pregnancy and up until week 14 of the pregnancy. As soon as you make the decision to conceive or nd out you are pregnant, you should start taking folic acid. Folic acid is found in dark green leafy vegetables, whole grains, and yeast extracts, so ensure to include lots of these in your diet too. Your primary healthcare provider or midwife can prescribe folic acid supplements for you.


Zinc is needed for many biological reactions in the body. It plays a critical role in the development of new cells and the formations of protein, as well as supporting the immune system. It is very common for women to be zinc-deficient during their pregnancy. The World Health Organisation estimates that as many as 80% of pregnant women are zinc deficient. During pregnancy, it is recommended to consume 15mg of zinc per day; however, you may need more if you are taking zinc and folic acid at the same time, as folic acid interferes with absorption. It is recommended to supplement zinc up to 15mg/day and to increase dietary zinc too. Zinc is found in oysters, beef, lamb, pumpkin seeds, and leafy greens.


Some mums-to- be have a hard time taking particular pregnancy supplements because of morning sickness. Take them before bed and they might go down a bit more easily than if you take them in the morning.

Vitamin D

Vitamin D plays a crucial role in the development of healthy bones and muscles, and normal nerve function in your baby. It is also important for maintaining a healthy pregnancy, as low vitamin D levels have been linked with gestational diabetes, low birth weight, and preeclampsia.

Your skin makes vitamin D when exposed to sunlight, and is the main source of vitamin D. Vitamin D is also found in small amounts in eggs, butter, oily sh, and dairy products. Supplementation is especially recommended if you keep your skin covered, have pigmented skin – as you absorb less sunlight – or if you are pregnant during the majority of winter. Pregnant women should be getting a minimum of 4000 International Units of vitamin D each day. Your primary healthcare provider can prescribe you vitamin D supplements if it is likely that you are de cient.

Omega 3 fatty acids

Omega 3 fatty acids are essential for brain development for your baby, both before and after birth. These fatty acids also support the development of the immune system, and supplementation during pregnancy has been shown to reduce allergies in the baby later in life.

Omega 3 fatty acids are called “essential acids” because you must get them through your diet, as the body can make very few of these fatty acids itself. Most people struggle to consume enough omega 3 fatty acids normally, and it becomes even harder during pregnancy when there is an increased need. Omega 3 fatty acids are found in oily fish like salmon, sardines, and mackerel, as well as walnuts, flax, and chia seeds. In order to get the recommended amount of omega 3 fatty acids (650mg/day), you would need to eat approximately 100 grams of salmon three times a week. For most pregnant mums, a supplement is more realistic. When choosing a sh oil supplement, look for one which states that it has undergone mercury testing and is free from mercury. If you open the bottle of fish oil tablets and they sell particularly fishy, then this is a sign of a poor-quality supplement or one that has been on the shelf too long. Capsulated fish oil should smell clean, like fresh fish.


Iron carries oxygen around the body, and low levels can cause you to feel exhausted – even after a good sleep – and out of breath after a short flight of stairs. During pregnancy, you are supplying the baby with lots of iron, so you need to make sure that you keep your stores up. Animal products provide the most easily absorbed and utilised form of iron (haem iron). Plants are a good source of iron too, only the form in which it comes in is not as well absorbed by the body (non-haem iron).

Pregnant women should be consuming 27mg of iron per day. The best way to get this is from your diet. Make sure to include red meat two to three times a week, as well as eggs, dark green leafy vegetables, and beans and lentils. If you don’t eat animal products or simply don’t eat meat very often, then it is important you supplement. The World Health Organisation recommends that iron is supplemented in all pregnant women as a de ciency can have a negative effect on brain development and cause low birth weight.

While this list of supplements may be overwhelming, you can often find high-quality supplements designed for pregnancy which include all or most of the nutrients needed. When choosing a supplement, it is important that you take advice from a qualified nutrition practitioner. They can help you choose the right supplement and advise you of the right dose. In any health store or pharmacy you will find a large range of products and many different brands selling the same nutrient. Please remember that when it comes to supplements, more often than not the price reflects the quality. Never take a new supplement or medication until you are sure that it is safe for pregnancy or breastfeeding – talk to your midwife before you start a supplement which hasn’t been prescribed for you.

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BUMP & baby is New Zealand’s only magazine for pregnancy and early babyhood. Our team of mums and mums-to-be understand what it’s like to be pregnant in this connected age, and that’s why BUMP & Baby online is geared toward what pregnant women and new mums really want to know.

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