Fertility

The NHS says these are the most important vitamins for pregnancy

Jessie Day, in partnership with Zita West  |   26 Oct 2023


When there’s just so much to think about, Google and factor in, it helps to have a baseline guide. The NHS highlights these two as the most important vitamins for pregnancy and preconception, and today we’re deep-diving the why and how on each: 

  • folic acid (see our note further down on folate)
  • vitamin D

We’ll also have a quick look at one vitamin the NHS say is best avoided, in supplement form, and a few others you may need to factor in, if you’re working with a particular diet or health concern. 

Got the info you need? If you’re short on time (and brain bandwidth!) world-renowned fertility supplements team Zita West have put together a brilliant Folate & Vitamin D for Fertility & Pregnancy pack – covering the NHS-recommended vitamins, all in one go. 

TRB readers (US and UK) get 10% off* right now too with code TRB10, so pop over and tick folate and vitamin D off your list

I’m not pregnant yet – when should I start supplementing?

When we say ‘pregnancy’, we’re covering a few bases here, factoring in early pregnancy and preconception, too. After all, the vitamins highlighted by the NHS (for our international readers, that’s the National Health Service in the UK) are often recommended by nutrition practitioners to have in our diet and supplement intake well ahead of conception. 

Folate, for example, is called out by the NHS as one to take while you’re trying for a baby (they say ideally for three months before) and then into pregnancy.

Note, the NHS refer to ‘folic acid’, but we’d almost always go for folate, which is the natural form of folic acid we find in food. Folate is therefore more bioavailable, and easy for our bodies (and baby!) to use. So if you see us referring to folate over folic acid, this is why. 

The best pregnancy supplements to factor in, according to the NHS

Don’t get us wrong – at team TRB we’re passionate about the benefits of a whole spectrum of nutrients for preconception, early pregnancy and beyond. Omega-3 gets just a passing mention by the NHS in their top-level guidance, for example, despite now being a pretty mainstream nutrient included in mama-to-be supplement bundles and practitioner support. 

As things stand, though, here’s what the NHS has to say about supplementing before and during pregnancy.

best pregnancy supplements folate

Folic acid (folate or vitamin B9)

Folic acid, folate and – maybe less familiar – vitamin B9 are often billed as interchangeable terms for the same thing. They’re actually distinctly different. Folic acid is the synthetic form of folate – the natural form of vitamin B9 which we find in food. 

Most of the time, team TRB would go for folate over folic acid, because it’s much more bioavailable, and easily metabolised by the body. 

The NHS recommends taking: 

  • 400 micrograms (mcg) of folic acid (we go for folate) every day – from before conception up until you’re 12 weeks pregnant 

The guidance states that a 400 mcg dosage can help to reduce the risk of problems in your baby’s development in the early stages and weeks of pregnancy – these include birth defects known as neural tube defects, for example spina bifida.

When should I start taking folic acid, or folate?

The NHS recommends starting a folic acid/folate supplement three months before conceiving, and during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. 

Personally, I took folate right the way through all of my pregnancies, using my own research and practitioner guidance. 

The NHS guidance goes on to state: 

Your doctor or midwife may recommend taking folic acid throughout pregnancy, particularly if you are at risk of anaemia or are anaemic. 

If you have a higher chance of having a baby with a neural tube defect, your doctor will recommend an increased dose of 5mg, taken once a day. 

There’s also specific guidance around dosages for treating and preventing folate deficiency anaemia, or if you’re taking methotrexate. Speak to your midwife or practitioner for more information on these, if you’re worried. 

What are the other benefits of folate, for preconception and pregnancy?

The NHS guidance focuses on those crucial early weeks of pregnancy, safeguarding against birth defects. But folate is a powerhouse micronutrient, packing a punch for so many aspects of your health – and your baby’s – including: 

  • homocysteine level support
  • proper cell division
  • cleft palate prevention
  • DNA, brain health and skull development 
  • neural tube defect prevention
  • red blood cell production
  • bone formation support
  • depression prevention

All a big deal, and all worth finding a high-quality supplement to support your intake goals. 

What about my diet – can I boost my folate there too?

Alongside the why of a folate supplement, it’s super-important to focus on dietary sources. Folate is the food form of Vitamin B9, and we can top up our levels every day really easily. The NHS still recommends taking a supplement to keep your bases covered – and we do, too – but diet is the ultimate baseline.  

Get your folate in food form with: 

  • leafy greens, including spinach and romaine lettuce
  • green vegetables, go for asparagus, brussels sprouts and broccoli

Black-eyed peas and avocados are also great sources.

what vitamins to take when trying to get pregnant vitamin D

Vitamin D

The folic acid recommendation has been around for decades. But Vitamin D is a relatively new focus micronutrient for the NHS, and still going back and forth in the research stages. 

Bottom line, however – the NHS now states that pregnant women need 10 mcg (400 IU) of vitamin D every day. They also recommend pregnant and breastfeeding women take a daily supplement containing this amount between September and March – because we’re usually getting less sunlight.

Is it just in winter that I need to worry?

Again, I took vitamin D before and throughout my pregnancies, and after while breastfeeding. This wasn’t relegated to the winter months – even though I was outside a lot and dutifully rolled up my sleeves for exposure, it’s just so difficult to get sufficient vitamin D from sunshine, in the UK. 

Our bodies actually make vitamin D when the skin is exposed to sunlight, and it’s a crucial factor in healthy prenatal care and pregnancy, because it: 

  • plays a role in creating sex hormones
  • supports normal ovulatory function
  • regulates cell growth
  • regulates calcium and phosphate levels (needed for healthy bones, teeth and muscles) 

People with dark skin or who cover their skin a lot may be at particular risk of not having enough vitamin D. And if you’re spending a lot of time indoors, year-round, your requirements may also increase. Speak to your midwife or practitioner, to get a personalised dosage in place.

What’s the link to miscarriage?

NHS guidance states that there’s a link between vitamin D deficiency and recurrent miscarriage. The Manchester NHS University Foundation Trust sets out more information via its Recurrent Miscarriage Clinic, but a top-line approach may be screening for vitamin D deficiency and treatment with a higher dose supplement, if necessary. 

Read up on everything you need to know about vitamin D for fertility and early pregnancy, with renowned fertility author, consultant and midwife Zita West.

Any others I should be aware of?

To provide the full picture, we need to cover NHS guidance for iron and vitamin B12, plus a vitamin they recommend avoiding – vitamin A (in the form of retinol). 

If you aren’t getting enough iron you’ll have an increased risk for anaemia, and the NHS advise speaking to  your doctor or midwife about this and any supplement requirements you may have. 

For people on a vegan, vegetarian or plant-based diet, iron and vitamin B12 deficiency can be common. Again, the guidance is to speak to your practitioner, and discuss any supplements you may need to take, to ensure your levels don’t drop too low before or during pregnancy. 

When it comes to vitamin A, the guidance from the NHS is to avoid cod liver oil and any supplements containing vitamin A, especially in the form of retinol, when you’re pregnant (or might be pregnant). 

The 1-2 pack to know

We love a done-and-dusted supplement pack. And anything that takes a little off our plates, when researching, shopping for and meal-planning around supplements gets a big tick. Particularly when it’s developed by the revered team at Zita West

Their NHS Recommended Folate & Vitamin D for Fertility & Pregnancy pack contains a convenient Vitamin D Spray (1000 IU) and their signature Folate supplement (400 mcg). All packed up in one, and ready to help you hit go, on pregnancy. 

prenatal vitamin dosage

TRB readers (US and UK) get 10% off* the entire Zita West line right now with code TRB10. Just pop it into the box at checkout.

*TRB10 is valid once per customer only. Excludes subscription purchase. This offer cannot be used in conjunction with any other offer. Zita West terms of the site apply.

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