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Essential Nutrients During Pregnancy

Tuesday March 27, 2018
Essential Nutrients During Pregnancy

Optimal nutrition during pregnancy is fundamental for healthy foetal growth and development. With the vast array of vitamins and minerals that are found in our diets, it can be overwhelming to recognise which nutrients are of most importance during this critical period.

Although most vitamin and mineral targets are met by your diet, there are certain nutrients that are required in higher quantities during pregnancy, to encourage the long-term well-being of your baby.


Folic Acid: Birth Defect Prevention

Folic acid is possibly the most recognised prenatal nutrient, due to increased awareness of its role in foetal health. A member of the B-vitamins, folic acid (folate) is necessary to promote cognitive and neurodevelopment of the foetus. Folic acid is the synthetic form of folate, which is found in fortified foods and supplements. Over twenty years of compelling research shows that folic acid supplementation reduces the prevalence of neural tube birth defects, such as spina bifida (1).

How much do I need?
It is recommended to take a supplemental dose of 400 ug folic acid per day, three months before conception, and until you are 12 weeks pregnant. Women with a higher risk of having a child with neural tube defects should take a higher dose of folic acid, as instructed by their GP.


DHA: Growth and Development
Around 60% of the brain is structural fat. Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) is an integral omega-3 fatty acid in pregnancy, as it is essential for foetal brain, nervous system and eye development. DHA is found in abundance in oily fish. However, as pregnant women must exercise caution with fish intake, you may wish to opt for a supplemental DHA for the duration of your pregnancy. DHA supplementation is of particular importance during the final trimester, as the foetal brain accumulates around 50-70mg of DHA per day.

An omega-3 fatty acid- docosahexaenoic acid essential for baby brain and eye development.


How much do I need?

Currently, there are no set recommendations for DHA requirements in pregnancy and lactation. As a guideline, studies suggest a daily supplemental dose of 200-300mg DHA per day (2).


Iron: Oxygen Transport

Iron is an essential mineral required to produce red blood cells, which carry oxygen around the body. During pregnancy, iron demands may be higher, as the blood transports essential nutrients and oxygen to the developing foetus. Iron deficiency can be fairly common during pregnancy, which may contribute to postpartum depression, premature birth, and iron-deficiency anaemia. Additionally, iron supplementation may effectively reduce low birthweight in new-borns (3).
How much do I need?
Reference daily nutrient intakes for iron are set at 14.8mg/day for pregnant women. Dietary iron exists in two main forms: heme-iron and non-heme iron. The body is better at absorbing and utilizing the heme form (4). Vegans and vegetarians are particularly susceptible to iron inadequacy, as heme-iron is predominantly found in animal meat.


Consuming a balanced, nutrient-dense diet supplemented with a high-quality Pregnancy Complex containing iron and folic acid is key to a healthy pregnancy. In addition, a balanced Omega Oil containing DHA may support foetal development.


Author: Salma Dawood is a Technical Advisor at Viridian Nutrition. She holds a BSc honours degree in Human Nutrition.

1) Imbard, A., Benoist, J.-F., & Blom, H. J. (2013). Neural Tube Defects, Folic Acid and Methylation. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 10(9), 4352–4389.
2) Coletta, J. M., Bell, S. J., & Roman, A. S. (2010). Omega-3 Fatty Acids and Pregnancy. Reviews in Obstetrics and Gynecology, 3(4), 163–171.
3) Peña-Rosas, J. P., De-Regil, L. M., Dowswell, T., & Viteri, F. E. (2012). Daily oral iron supplementation during pregnancy. The Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, 12, CD004736.
4) Richard Hurrell, Ines Egli; Iron bioavailability and dietary reference values, The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Volume 91, Issue 5, 1 May 2010, Pages 1461S–1467S,


The information contained in this article is not intended to treat, diagnose or replace the advice of a health practitioner. Please consult a qualified health practitioner if you have a pre-existing health condition or are currently taking medication. Food supplements should not be used as a substitute for a varied and balanced diet.


TAGS: Children's HealthMother and Baby, pregnancy, children's health


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