Nutrition Supplements for Pregnancy & Nursing

Nutritional Supplements During Pregnancy & Nursing

What to Take and What to Avoid During Pregnancy: Supplements, Foods and More

While the concept of welcoming a brand new baby into the world is often a welcomed blessing, something that gives warm fuzzies… there are often those aspects of pregnancy that are not so blissful.

Supplements are one of these areas.

Before we get into the reasons in which supplements can cause concern or confusion (and why else they can be so frustrating) we first want to get a healthy understanding of what we are talking about. Because, at the end of the day, these dietary aids that can be nauseating to take and annoying to remember… they also host a number of benefits and there is a solid reason why you should consider talking to your provider and taking all of the prescribed supplements while you are pregnant.

Pregnancy Supplements

… You mean prenatal vitamins? Right?

Most women know before they are pregnant that pregnant women need to take prenatal vitamins. These have become one of the supplements that are widely prescribed, used and accepted. In fact your first appointment upon confirming pregnancy you will be advised (usually) to take start taking prenatals right away.

Based on your nutritional needs though, it is likely that your body will need more than just that. Because every woman is different, there are quite a few supplements that you can take while pregnant. For now, we are going to discuss the most commonly prescribed ones and what they do. Keep in mind that if you have an illness or condition that you also take supplements.

Common Supplements During Pregnancy

The common supplements during pregnancy are:

— Calcium
— Coconut Oil
— Iron
— Folate
— Folic Acid
— Magnesium
— Prenatal Vitamin
— Vitamin B
— Vitamin D
— Zinc

Let’s take a closer look at each of these to gain a better understanding of how each benefit you during pregnancy.


Calcium is known for being a powerhouse for teeth and bone growth, but did you know that it also aids the heart, nervous system and muscles too? In fact, calcium intake is related to the development of normal heart rhythm and preventing blood clots for the baby, but they will actually take the calcium from you, if you don’t have enough in your diet. This could have health effects for you later on, so it is important to make sure that you get enough calcium while pregnant.

Calcium helps to stimulate muscles, working with magnesium it can help to bring on labor and have healthy contractions. Since most women go into pregnancy with a deficiency (with an American diet), it is important to include this within your diet as soon (or before) you know that you’re pregnant. Calcium is also important when you are breastfeeding.

Foods rich in calcium:

— Cheese
— Cooked Spinach
— Corn Tortillas
— Cottage Cheese
— Dry Roasted Almonds
— Milk
— Sardines
— Sesame Seeds
— Yogurt

Coconut Oil

Coconut boasts a number of benefits for the body and these are certainly passed along while you are pregnant. This supplement provides antifungal properties that can help with topical treatments and antiviral qualities that are great to fend off sickness.

Coconut oil is a great source of lauric acid which helps to increase yours (and baby’s) immune system. Some women also comment that coconut oil helps them with their morning sickness, constipation and heartburn. Additionally, rubbed on the skin, it can help with both skin irritations and help to prevent stretch marks.

You can add coconut oil to the following foods:

— Baking (muffins and cookies)
— Coffee
— Hot drinks
— Frying
— Smoothies
— Stirfry


Essential in the process of making hemoglobin, or also known as the protein that carries the oxygen between cells, iron is especially important when you are pregnant. Consider the fact that your body will increase blood production up to 50% while you are pregnant and that most women are somewhat deficient with iron in the first place. This can cause anemia, which is consistent with preterm labor problems.

Avoid this by taking up to 27 mg of iron daily, as prescribed by your primary care physician. Adding foods that are rich in iron can help as well, especially if you have difficulties with iron supplements while pregnant. Often doctors will recommend added iron to help with anemia. Since many of the highest nutritional sources for iron include beef liver and shell foods that you should not be eating while pregnant, it is important to include iron-rich foods that you can eat to your regular diet.

Foods rich in iron:

— Beans
— Beef
— Dark lettuce varieties
— Lamb
— Nuts
— Spinach
— Sunflower Seeds
— Whole grains

Folate and Folic Acid

These two are listed together because many people will tell you that these two are the same things and they would be right… almost.

Technically folate is the natural version and folic acid is the oxidized synthetic version of vitamin B9 complex. The way that the two react with the body is slightly different, but the end result is generally the same.

The reason that the two of these are mentioned so much in pregnancy is because of the effects of the supplement to the unborn baby. Before 1943, humans didn’t have any exposure to folic acid. However, it has been noticed with the increase of use that there have been benefits on unborn babies, namely in the preventive effect that it has on neural tube defects (NTD) such as Spina Bifida.

Folic Acid and Neural Tube Defects

Folic Acid helps in the prevention of NTDs but because these usually develop within the first 28 days of pregnancy, this is something that you should be taking beforehand. For this reason, it is recommended that since many women would not know that they were pregnant within the first month that if you are thinking of becoming pregnant that you should be taking 400 micrograms (mcg) for folic acid per day.

The additional benefits of folate and folic acid during pregnancy include:

— It is necessary for rapid cell division and growth, which pregnancy is known to double the bodies requirements of dietary folates

— Lowers the risk of certain cancers and cardiovascular disease

While folate from natural sources is generally preferred and it can be found in the following foods:

— Lentils

— Dark green vegetables such as spinach, broccoli and turnip or collard greens

— Dried beans and peas

— Okra and Asparagus

— Citrus fruit and juice

— Avocado

— Wheat Bread

Getting the complex in one way or another is of the utmost importance early in pregnancy. To supplement your folate intake when your levels are inadequate, you can take the folic acid supplement. Women of childbearing age are often recommended to take one or both of these supplements, even before they know that they are pregnant, especially if they are trying to get pregnant.


In order for your body to be able to repair tissues, it needs magnesium. It works in conjunction with calcium, as the portion of the process that relaxes muscles. Ample amounts of magnesium with corresponding parts of calcium can help to reinforce the uterus muscles and prevent early contractions.

As an added bonus, magnesium also helps with bone growth, prevents prenatal diabetes and regulates certain enzyme functions.

During pregnancy, a lack of magnesium can have drastic consequences including pre-eclampsia, impaired fetal growth and death to the baby.

Foods rich in magnesium:

— Bran
— Breakfast cereal
— Dry roasted almonds
— Dry roasted cashews
— Halibut
— Peanut butter
— Pumpkin seeds
— Spinach (frozen or fresh)
— Sunflower seeds


When you’re pregnant, you need a bit more in the way of vitamins and minerals. Similar to a daily multi-vitamin, prenatals have what you need to fill in the gaps that you will need to while carrying a child. The main difference with prenatals and a daily vitamin is the amounts of folic acid and iron, both of which are vital to a growing fetus.

To ensure that you are getting enough of what you need from your prenatal, a rule of thumb of ingredients can be found here:

— Folic Acid – 400 micrograms
— Vitamin D – 400 IU
— Calcium – 20-300 mg
— Vitamin C – 70 mg
— Thiamin – 3 mg
— Riboflavin – 2 mg
— Niacin – 20 mg
— Vitamin B12 – 6mcg
— Vitamin B – 6 mcg
— Zinc – 15 mg
— Iron – 17 mg
— Iodine – 150 mcg

No two women alike. This is a guide based off of an average need for a pregnant woman and the general base requirements for most.

Before taking any supplement, always confirm with your primary provider what the specific numbers are for you. For example, a woman that has had a child with a neural tube defect may find that she needs additional folic acid in her diet as compared to another woman that has not. Additionally, any illnesses or health issues that you have pre-pregnancy need to be adjusted for.

Take a closer look at some of the required minerals and vitamins to get a better understanding of why taking them is so important while pregnant.

Vitamin A

Affecting organ growth, vitamin A has a big role during pregnancy from the early stages to the very end. It aids in the development of all of the main body systems like the respiratory and circulatory. It also helps with the creation of organs and bones. Another bonus of vitamin A during pregnancy is that it can help keep mom’s body strong, meaning that you are less likely to get sick and can stave off infections easier.

Vitamin A comes in two forms which are preformed vitamin A which is found in animals and

Foods rich in Vitamin A:

— Breakfast cereals
— Bell peppers
— Carrots
— Dried apricot
— Dried mango
— Fish
— Lettuce
— Sweet potatoes

Vitamin B

You have to pay attention to the kinds of B vitamins that are in your prenatal, so that you know what you are getting. Often, you will have to include additional sources of B vitamins because many prenatal commonly have only B6.

Women can There is evidence to suggest that vitamin B 6 and B 12 can both help with morning sickness and nausea too. A daily amount of 2.6 mcg per day is recommended during pregnancy and then an increase of 2.8 mcg per day when lactation.

Foods that are rich in B Vitamins:


— Bell peppers
— Fruit (non-citrus)
— Leafy Greens
— Potatoes
— Turnips


Many of the ways that you get B vitamins is through liver, seafood, and crustaceans… all of which are foods that you shouldn’t be eating or should limit eating while pregnant. For this reason, it can be hard to get the B12 that you need during your pregnancy and an added benefit of prenatals if you choose a brand that includes this vitamin.

— Fortified cereals
— Soy milk

Vitamin D

Everyone knows that Vitamin D helps strengthen and build bones. This mighty vitamin is a necessity during the second half of your pregnancy as your baby’s bones build density the quickest.

Beyond building bones though, Vitamin D also has a number of other uses. Namely it helps to promote insulation actions and secretions (which can be important for pre-eclampsia), aspects of the immune system for both baby and mom, as well as fetal lung development.

Lack of Vitamin D in the diet can lead to some complications including potentially contributing to pre-eclampsia, low birth weight, impaired skeletal growth, hypocalcaemia seizures (neonatal and infantile), poor glucose tolerance and bacterial vaginosis. To help prevent these, generally it is recommended to take 10 mcg of Vitamin D while pregnant. For those that have a high risk, some women can be ordered to take up to 1,000 mcg per day by their primary care provider.

Foods that are rich in Vitamin D:

— Cheese
— Egg (yok)
— Fish oil (cod liver)
— Fish (choose a low mercury variety)
— Milk (all varieties, though Whole has the most Vitamin D)
— Orange juice
— Soymilk
— Tuna (canned)


Common in most American diets, a deficiency in zinc is not that common. However, it is important in pregnancy because of the vital role that zinc plays in the genetic blue print of a fetus. Zinc is essential for the repair, production and maintenance of DNA in the human body.

Zinc is slow to absorb in the body, so rather than measuring how much you take daily, you should aim to get enough that would average about 13-18 mg per day, depending on your age, over the course of a couple of days. You can also track your weekly intake to get a more accurate gage.

Foods that are rich in Iron:

— Beef (lean cut)
— Breakfast cereal
— Baked beans and pork
— Crab meat
— Lamb
— Roast Turkey

What to Avoid Eating While Pregnant

As much as it is important to make sure that you take your supplements while you are pregnant, it is just as vital that you avoid things that will make you ill or that could have negative effects on your baby while you are pregnant. There are common food items that have been noted to cause problems while pregnant. Below are just a few listed, but it is also important to start the conversation with your primary care provider to discuss if there are certain foods that may affect you negatively during your pregnant.

Artificial Sweeteners

NutraSweet, Sweet’n Low and Splenda are common artificial sweeteners that can all be potentially harmful. Sweet;n Low was the only one to show causing cancer in lab rats, but that was at very high amounts. The rest, there seems to be inconclusive evidence. However, do you really want to be ingesting inconclusive chemicals while you are pregnant?


In high doses, caffeine can contribute to miscarriage or premature birth. It isn’t a major risk, however according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), high amounts of caffeine over 300 mg per day, led to low birth weight. This means that you can have a little, but you need to limit it and watch your intake closely.

Deli Meats and Hot Dogs

Because certain meats can have Listeria, it is best to avoid ham and other preserved deli meats while pregnant. Listeria is a form of food poisoning caused by a bacteria. In some cases it can turn into meningitis. It can be passed to the baby as well, and there are dangerous consequences. While it is a small risk that you can get Listeria from deli meats, the consequences can be dire if you do including miscarriage, stillbirth and premature labor.

Diet Soda

Diet soda has the trifecta of “bad” for pregnancy. First, there are the inconclusive yet still chemicals, of artificial sweeteners. One soda in this regard probably won’t do much, but depending on how much you drink… the sweeteners do add up. Then, there is caffeine. You should avoid caffeine because of the side effects that it has to heart rhythm and addictive properties, while pregnant.

Raw Cookie Dough or Cake Batter

Baked goods will usually have raw eggs in them, which can lead to salmonella contamination. No one wants salmonella when they are not pregnant, let alone when they are carrying a child. The symptoms are uncomfortable and can often not be treated effectively while pregnant, meaning that you can be extra sick if you do end up sick. Plus, you can pass illness to the baby., which can cause vomiting, diarrhea or developed meningitis after birth. Because of this, it is advised to not eat any batter or dough while pregnant, including licking the spoon.

Raw or Undercooked Meat

Meat that hasn’t been cooked properly can contribute to a host of bacteria and viruses that can cause harm to mother and baby. Additionally, there have been noted cases of parasites with some meats being undercooked, albeit less common in American cuisine.

Soft Cheeses

Because of the risk of E. coli and Listeria, it is recommended to avoid soft cheeses while pregnant. Instead opt for firmer varieties that are safe to eat including cheddar or swiss. If you do choose to eat soft cheese while pregnant, check the label and make sure that pasteurized milk was used in the process.


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