Dietary Supplements in Pregnancy

What is really needed?
Many women take dietary supplements when they are pregnant to make sure they are getting enough vitamins and minerals.

However, this may not be necessary. The dietary guidelines for healthy eating in pregnancy show how pregnant women can meet their nutrient needs from diet alone Click here to find out more. The guidelines have been developed by bringing together a wealth of scientific studies by experts. The extra nutritional needs in pregnancy can be met by an extra daily serve of a protein rich food (e.g.lean meat, fish, chicken, eggs, baked beans), and an extra serve and a half of cereal foods (e.g whole grain bread, high fibre cereal, pasta, noodles or brown rice).

  • So, what supplements are recommended? (Folic acid)

    For women planning pregnancy and during the first 3 months of pregnancy, women are advised to take 400 micrograms of folic acid per day to reduce the risk of two serious birth defects, spina bifida and anencephaly (also called neural tube defects).

    The neural tube closes and fuses very early in pregnancy, and often before a woman knows she is pregnant.  If it doesn’t close, the result is a neural tube defects such as spina bifida. Folic acid is important during these early first weeks of life because folic acid taken at recommended levels for at least one month before and three months after conception can prevent most neural tube defects.

    Folate, occurs naturally in foods like green leafy vegetables, but because many women do not eat enough and most pregnancies are not planned, many governments have mandated the addition of folic acid into flour used for bread making.  As a result, commercial breads, muffins and pastries are all fortified with folate.  In Australia, the folate fortification program has resulted in a 30% reduction in neural tube defects across the whole population, and up to a 70% reduction in groups who are at risk of having poor diets.

  • So, what supplements are recommended? (Iodine)

    Iodine is another nutrient where some governments, including Australia, have acted to fortify the food supply.  Low iodine levels in populations are more common in regions where the iodine content of the soil is poor and little fish is eaten.

    During pregnancy iodine is important to reduce possible iodine-deficiency health problems such as impaired development in babies and young children.  In Australia, it is recommended that women planning pregnancy, pregnancy and breastfeeding women take 150 micrograms of iodine per day.  However, care is needed. While there are no conclusive studies to show that this level of supplementation will improve the developmental outcome of children in regions like Australia, there are studies to suggest that supplementation above this level may be associated with poorer developmental outcomes.  Iodine supplements derived from seaweed should be avoided as the content of iodine can be variable and very high.

    Women with pre-existing thyroid conditions should seek advice from their medical practitioner prior to taking an iodine supplement.

  • Are any other supplements needed or recommended?

    No other supplements are needed or recommended, unless there is a specific deficiency or levels of a nutrient are low. For example, iron deficiency anaemia and vitamin D deficiency sometime occur during pregnancy. A supplement is only needed to correct the deficiency in question.

  • What to do to maintain good nutritional status in pregnancy?

    Eat a variety of foods and follow the dietary guidelines for pregnant women.

    Choose foods from all the foods groups daily. Include vegetables, fruit, grain and cereal foods, meat and meat alternatives, and dairy foods.

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