It is no surprise that (expecting) Moms require more vitamins and nutrients during pregnancy and breastfeeding than before, as they are growing and feeding another human being. But how much can be a bit confusing sometimes. That is why I have decided to write this overview on all the vitamins and nutrient intakes recommended during pregnancy and breastfeeding.
As a reference I have used the values as recommended by the DGE, the German Society of Nutrition for nutrients and vitamins during pregnancy and breastfeeding. Sometimes I have used other sources as well. Please note that as a reference value I have used the ones for a 35 year old female. I have created this awesome cheat sheet where you can look up all the recommended values.
As a general recommendation you should try to get all your nutrients and vitamins during pregnancy through a balanced diet. If you want to use a prenatal supplement make sure it meets all the requirements below. Some brands offer even different prenatal supplements for before, during and after pregnancy. Like the one that produces my favorite prenatal vitamin supplement.
Energy expenditure and overall calories
During pregnancy you need more calories, as your are growing a human inside your body. In addition, you will gain weight to increase the size of your uterus, your breasts, the placenta, and you will add an extra layer of fat to your body to be prepared for breastfeeding. All this will contribute to the fact that you need more calories. However, this is not an excuse to eat as much as you would like, as with increased weight also your overall physical activity will go down.
As your body will need more nutrients and vitamins during pregnancy and breastfeeding along with more calories, you should try to increase your calorie intake with healthy, nutrient dense foods. So even though you would want to: do not use the extra calories on only chocolate, ice cream, pizza and burgers. The general recommendations when it comes to calories are:
- Healthy females (35 years): 1900-2500kcal depending on your activity
- First trimester: +0kcal
- Second trimester: +250 kcal
- Third trimester: + 500 kcal
- Breastfeeding: + 500kcal
As for calories, your protein needs increase because of your growing baby, uterus, placenta. Try to get a complete source of protein, preferably by combining different protein sources. the choice of protein is also up to you. The only protein I would recommend staying away from is fish that could contain too many heavy metals.
- Healthy females (35 years): 0.8g per kg of bodyweight
- First trimester: 0.8g per kg of bodyweight
- Second trimester: 1.1g per kg of bodyweight
- Third trimester: 1.1g per kg of bodyweight
- Breastfeeding: 1.5g per kg of bodyweight
Vitamin A is a very important vitamin during pregnancy as it is crucial for cell growth of you and your baby. However it is important to consider how much you get of it. Overdosing on Vitamin A, especially the synthetic one, can leat to harmful birth defects of your baby. That is why a lot of the prenatal supplements do not contain Vitamin A, and why it is not recommended to use cosmetic products containing retinol (a form of Vitamin A) during pregnancy. The safest way of getting enough vitamin A is still to consume it through healthy foods, especially vegetables.
- Healthy females (35 years): 0.8 mg
- First trimester: 0.8 mg
- Second trimester: 1.1mg
- Third trimester: 1.1mg
- Breastfeeding: 1.5mg
Vitamin D together with Calcium plays an important role during bone formation in you and your unborn child. It is very important that you get enough of this vitamin during pregnancy to prevent osteoporosis. Your body is able to produce vitamin D through sunlight. However, most of us, especially during winter, do not produce enough vitamin D ourselves and have to get it from food like fatty fish or egg yolks, or supplements.
While the DGE recommends the same amount of vitamin D before, during and after pregnancy, more recent studies have shown that extra vitamin D (up to 4.000 I.U.) can be beneficial for pregnant women. So maybe this recommendation will change in the near future.
- Healthy females (35 years): 20µg = 800 I.U.
- First trimester: 20µg
- Second trimester: 20µg
- Third trimester: 20µg
- Breastfeeding: 20µg
Vitamin E is another fat soluble vitamin and antioxidant that is important during pregnancy, and that you need more of. However, as with all fat soluble vitamins, it should not be overdosed. Good sources of vitamin E include various nuts and seeds llike almonds and sunflower seeds and also their oils.
- Healthy females (35 years): 12 mg
- First trimester: 13 mg
- Second trimester: 13mg
- Third trimester: 13mg
- Breastfeeding: 17 mg
Vitamin K is a vitamin that is very important for blood clotting. As babies generally do not get enough of it during pregnancy, they will be given a vitamin K injection shortly after birth in most countries. Unfortunately there is no evidence that you can increase your baby’s vitamin K stores through supplementation. So it is one of the few vitamins that you do not need more of during pregnancy and breastfeeding. However, you should still try to get enough, preferably through the consumption of leafy greens.
- Healthy females (35 years): 60µg
- First trimester: 60µg
- Second trimester: 60µg
- Third trimester: 60µg
- Breastfeeding: 60µg
Vitamin B1 Thiamine
Vitamin B1 plays a huge role in your baby’s brain development. It is water solulable and can therefore not be stored. Good source of Vitamin B1 are oats, pork, lentils, pekan and brazil nuts. The recommendations by the DGE is up to 1.3 mg of Vitamin B1 per day, whereas other sources recommend even up to 1.4 mg throughout your pregnancy.
- Healthy females (35 years): 1mg
- First trimester: 1 mg
- Second trimester: 1.2 mg
- Third trimester: 1.3 mg
- Breastfeeding: 1.3 mg
Vitamin B2 Riboflavin
Vitamin B2 or Riboflavin is important for eye health of your baby. It also helps to reduce the risk of preeclampsia. Again as a vitamin from the vitamin B family it is water solulable. Good sources are dark and leafy greens, eggs and dairy.
- Healthy females (35 years): 1.1mg
- First trimester: 1.1mg
- Second trimester: 1.3mg
- Third trimester: 1.4mg
- Breastfeeding: 1.4mg
Vitamin B3 Niacin
Vitamin B3 will soon become one of you favorite vitamins during pregnancy as is it supposed to help with nausea and morning sickness. Good sources are salmon, wild tuna, avocado, tomatoes, bell peppers.
- Healthy females (35 years): 12 mg
- First trimester: 12 mg
- Second trimester: 14 mg
- Third trimester: 16 mg
- Breastfeeding: 16 mg
Besides being important for your baby’s brain and nerves, Vitamin B6 witll also make the list of your favorite vitamins during pregnancy as it can also help to reduce nausea and morning sickness. While the recommendation of the DGE is fairly low, the University of Michigan recommends taking up to 25 mg three times a day to help with nausea. If you prefer getting your vitamins from natural sources the best ones are: beans, chickpeas, avocado, spinach, bananas.
- Healthy females (35 years): 1.2 mg
- First trimester: 1.2 mg
- Second trimester: 1.9 mg
- Third trimester: 1.9 mg
- Breastfeeding: 1.9 mg
Folate or Folic Acid or Vitamin B9
Folate or Folic acid is probably the most important vitamins during pregnancy. A low folate status in early pregnancy has been linked to neural tube defects in the fetus. It is therefore one of my top 5 recommendations that you do before getting pregnant to fill up your folate storages. This is also why a lot of foods in the US are now fortified with folate or folic acid.
To make sure your folate levels are adequate you can either eat lots of food rich in natural folate like leafy greens, or supplement with folate or the artificial form of folic acid. However you should consider that some people can not metabolize folic acid into folate properly and should therefore try to consume natural bioavailable folate. If you are concerned about this you should definitely look for a prenatal supplement containing folate instead of folic acid.
- Healthy females (35 years): 400µg ( especially before you get pregnant)
- First trimester: 550µ ( 800µg if you have not been taking folic acid before)
- Second trimester: 550µg
- Third trimester: 550µg
- Breastfeeding: 450µg
Vitamin B5 Pantothenic Acid
Pantothenic Acid can help reduce leg cramps, which is also a common issue during pregnancy. You can find vitamin B5 in avocados, sunflower seeds, whole grains and milk.
- Healthy females (35 years): 6mg
- First trimester: 6mg
- Second trimester: 6 mg
- Third trimester: 6 mg
- Breastfeeding: 6mg
Vitamin B7 Biotin
Vitamin B7 is essential for fetal growth during pregnancy. But it also makes (future) Moms prettier as it is important for skin, hair and nails.
- Healthy females (35 years): 30-60µg
- First trimester: 30-60µg
- Second trimester: 30-60µg
- Third trimester: 30-60µg
- Breastfeeding: 30-60µg
Together with folic acid vitamin B12 is supposed to help prevent neural tube defects in the fetus. It also helps the function of brain and nerves. As Vitamin B12 is only naturally available in animal products, it will be hard to get this vitamin on a purely vegan diet. In this case it should then be supplemented.
- Healthy females (35 years): 4µg
- First trimester: 4,5µg
- Second trimester: 4,5µg
- Third trimester: 4,5µg
- Breastfeeding: 5,5µg
Vitamin C is probably the most common vitamin supplemented on earth. It is mostly known for supporting the immune system. But it is also a very important antioxidant fighting free radicals in your body. But because it is such a strong antioxidant it is very often used as a preservative in foods. For example a lot of fruit products are preserved with Vitamin C aka ascorbic acid aka E300 to prevent oxidation. It has basically the same effect as putting fresh lemon juice on sliced apples so they don’t turn brown. So the next time you see a label on a fruit juice saying “rich in Vitamin C” it probably means that it is used as a preservative. And because Vitamin C is so commonly used as a preservative, additional supplementation is generally not necessary.
- Healthy females (35 years): 95mg
- First trimester: 95mg
- Second trimester: 105 mg
- Third trimester: 105mg
- Breastfeeding: 105mg
Sodium & chloride, also known as salt
In the past it was generally recommend that pregnant women should actually decrease their salt intake to help with water retention and preeclampsia. However it has not been shown that a low salt diet helps with preeclampsia. Although you should still watch your salt intake, there is no need to specifically worry about it during pregnancy.
Potassium and Phosphor
Pregnant and breastfeeding women do not need higher levels of these nutrients. It is recommended that all women get 4,000mg of potassium and 700mg of phosphor per day.
Healthy females (35 years): 4,000mg
The DGE does not see an increase in calcium needs for pregnant or breastfeeding women compared to the average woman. However I still want to emphasize the importance of calcium (together with vitamin D) as a key nutrient during pregnancy and breastfeeding. Your baby has to grow strong bones. If you are not getting enough calcium during your pregnancy your little one will get it from your body’s stores, which are your own bones and teeth. This could potentially lead to osteoporosis and tooth loss later in life.
There is even an old saying here in Austria, that a woman will lose one tooth for each pregnancy. While this might sound extreme in our civilized western society nowadays, the principle is still valid. As bones take longer to renew than every other tissue in your body you should make sure you get enough calcium before, during and after your pregnancy. It is also important to take calcium togehter with Vitamin D as they work togehter. You should also avoid taking calcium with coffee (like your daily latte machiato) as too much coffee can inhibit calcium absorbtion.
- Healthy females (35 years): 1000mg
- First trimester: 1000mg
- Second trimester: 1000mg
- Third trimester: 1000mg
- Breastfeeding: 1000mg
Magnesium is also one of the super star nutrients during pregnancy and breastfeeding as it can help with nausea, morning sickness, muscle cramps, ligament pain and headaches. Latest studies also have shown that magnesium can help prevent preeclampsia and premature labor. Sounds awesome, right?
- Healthy females (35 years): 300mg
- First trimester: 310mg
- Second trimester: 310mg
- Third trimester: 310mg
- Breastfeeding: 390mg
Iron is also one of the most important nutrients during pregnancy. Besides forming all your baby’s blood, your body will also increase your own blood volume by up to two kilograms or four pounds during pregnancy. And all this extra blood needs extra iron.
- Healthy females (35 years): 15mg
- First trimester: 30mg
- Second trimester: 30mg
- Third trimester: 30mg
- Breastfeeding: 30mg
Iodine is important for the the mother’s thyroid function as well as the baby’s brain. As the brain is still rapidly developing after birth the recommendation is to keep iodine intake high while breastfeeding. Good sources of iodine are fish. In some countries table salt is also fortified with iodine.
- Healthy females (35 years): 150µg
- First trimester: 200µg
- Second trimester: 200µg
- Third trimester: 200µg
- Breastfeeding: 200µg
To quote the WHO: ” The central role of zinc in cell division, protein synthesis and growth means that an adequate supply of zinc is especially important for pregnant women .”
- Healthy females (35 years): 7µg
- First trimester: 7µg
- Second trimester: 10µg
- Third trimester: 10µg
- Breastfeeding: 11µg
Selenium is another trace mineral that is important during pregnancy and breastfeeding. Good sources include fish, meat, nuts and grains.
- Healthy females (35 years): 60µg
- First trimester : 60µg
- Second trimester: 60µg
- Third trimester: 60µg
- Breastfeeding: 75µg
Omega 3 fatty acids , especially EPA and DHA
Omega 3 fatty acids are a very important nutrient during pregnancy and breastfeeding. The most commonly known omega 3 fatty acids area ALA, EPA and DHA. While ALA is plant based (i.e. in flaxseeds.) EPA and DHA generally come from animal sources. Especially DHA is very important for your child’s brain development. You should therefore try to get more of it during pregnancy and breastfeeding. Foods that are high in DHA are fatty cold water fish or algae. However due to the risk of heavy metal contamination, and also the environmental consideration of overfishing, getting your DHA from a supplement can also be a good idea.
Unfortunately there is no recommendation from the DGE specifically on EPA and DHA for adults, however they recommend 200mg of DHA daily for pregnant women. The International Society for the Study of Fatty Acids and Lipids recommends a minimum intake as below:
- Healthy females (35 years): 220g EPA and 220g of DHA
- First trimester: 220g EPA and 300g of DHA
- Second trimester: 220g EPA and 300g of DHA
- Third trimester: 220g EPA and 300g of DHA
- Breastfeeding: 220g EPA and 300g of DHA
I hope this gave you a good overview on the most important vitamins and nutrients during pregnancy and breastfeeding. Did I miss anything? Shoot me a comment below!
Please also check out my blogpost on exercising during pregnancy.