Most pregnant women take prenatal supplements whether they’re advised to by their health care provider or not.
Just because it’s a supplement and not a medication doesn’t mean you don’t have to seek advice about the safety of taking supplements.
For pregnant women, vitamin A can be unsafe in high doses. Please speak with your midwife or health professional about all the supplements that you take in pregnancy.
Ask for information about Vitamin A and pregnancy: it might or might not be required, depending on socio-economic situation.
What is vitamin A?
Vitamin A is a fat-soluble vitamin that is stored in the liver and is an essential nutrient found in many foods. Vitamin A is most important for eye, skin, and reproductive health.
Vitamin A helps other organs to function correctly, including the lungs, kidneys, and heart.
There are two different types of vitamin A:
- Preformed vitamin A (retinol) – found in fish, meat, dairy products, and poultry
- Provitamin A (carotenoids) – found in vegetables and fruit; the body converts this into retinol
What does vitamin A do in pregnancy?
Vitamin A is an important nutrient for both pregnant women and babies. During pregnancy, vitamin A is essential to ensure your baby’s growth, so bones, eyes and organs develop properly. It’s also a key nutrient for the respiratory, circulatory, and central nervous systems.
Additionally, Vitamin A is an essential micronutrient for pregnant women, to help with tissue repair after birth. It helps to maintain your normal vision and support your immune system; it also helps with fat metabolism.
Vitamin A and baby development
Vitamin A is crucial to your baby’s bone development. Vitamin A is needed for vision and a healthy immune system.
The immune system is required to fight off illness and infection.
Not enough Vitamin A can lead to a deficiency, which might mean baby’s growth is restricted and a higher chance of diabetes in the mother.
Too much vitamin A in pregnancy
When pregnant women have too much preformed vitamin A, it can cause birth defects and liver toxicity.
Most supplements for pregnant women have part of the vitamin A component in the form of beta-carotene, which is a type of provitamin A. Many over-the-counter brands and other multivitamins, as well as fortified foods, have large amounts of preformed vitamin A.
The average western diet contains plenty of preformed vitamin A, in foods such as meat, dairy, and fortified cereals, as well as provitamin A from fruit and vegetables.
That’s why it’s important you don’t take more than the recommended daily amount of vitamin A in supplement form, as it increases the risk of birth defects, especially in the first trimester.
Does vitamin A cause birth defects?
Birth defects in the fetus can occur in pregnancy due to high doses of vitamin A. This is called a teratogenic effect.
The highest risk of birth defects that occur due to excess vitamin A is in the first trimester.
Vitamin A in the maternal blood at high doses can cause:
- Congenital malformations – birth defects of the cardiac and central nervous system
If you suspect you have had high doses of vitamin A, your health care provider might recommend tests to check whether or not your developing baby has been affected.
Vitamin A deficiency
Vitamin A deficiency in pregnant women is more common in the third trimester, possibly due to increased blood volume and the demands of the rapidly growing baby.
Some pregnant women might be more likely to develop vitamin A deficiency if they don’t take in enough foods rich in vitamin A, or have gestational diabetes and infections.
Vitamin A deficiency over a long period of time can lead to night blindness in pregnant women.
How much vitamin A is safe in pregnancy?
It’s usually not recommended to take vitamin A supplements during pregnancy, unless vitamin A deficiency is a public health issue, more commonly seen in developing countries.
The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends pregnant women gain adequate vitamin A by eating a healthy balanced diet. If vitamin A deficiency occurs, then it’s recommended to take no more than a maximum of 10,000 IU daily beyond 60 days of pregnancy.
There is no benefit in taking vitamin A supplements when normal daily intake is 8,000 IU or more.
How can I get vitamin A naturally?
The best sources of provitamin A are fruit and vegetables, especially those that are colored red, orange, yellow, and dark green.
Preformed vitamin A is found in things like liver, red meat, and dairy, as well as in fortified cereals.
Some foods containing vitamin A include:
- Beef liver
- Cod liver oil
- Sweet potato
- Dark green leafy vegetables
- Black-eyed peas
- Sweet red pepper
- Fatty fish
- Dairy foods.
Good nutrition in pregnancy is vital for the growth and development of the baby, notwithstanding how important it is for the mother.
You might like to read 5 Yummy, Healthy Foods Every Pregnant Woman Needs To Eat.
What fruits are rich in vitamin A?
Fruits are a fantastic choice in pregnancy, especially if you eat them with the skin on; that’s where the fiber and many of the nutrients are found.
Vitamin A is best absorbed with dietary fats, so have some yogurt or nut butter with vitamin A-rich fruits.
Some fruits that contain Vitamin A are:
- Pink or Red Grapefruit
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Vitamin A pregnancy beta carotene
Beta carotene changes to vitamin A in the body as the body needs it; this can reduce the risk of vitamin toxicity and birth defects during pregnancy.
Beta carotene is safe in pregnancy, but high doses of vitamin A itself aren’t recommended.
Some great sources of beta-carotene are:
- Sweet potatoes
- Winter squash
- Spinach and kale
- Fruits such as cantaloupe and apricots.
Vitamin A foods to avoid for pregnant women
If you’re thinking of becoming pregnant, it’s recommended to avoid vitamin A supplementation prior to conception.
Fish liver oil and liver products should also be avoided due to their high vitamin A content.
You should eat a healthy, well-balanced diet with a particular focus on foods that have plenty of provitamin A, found in fruit and vegetables.
Vitamin A pregnancy skincare
Most medical professionals suggest pregnant women don’t use skincare products containing vitamin A.
The journal of clinical pharmacology published a study that shows the use of vitamin A on the skin is low risk but should be avoided, as a precaution.
If you used skin products containing retinol or vitamin A when pregnant, or you weren’t aware you were pregnant when using these products, don’t worry, as it’s not enough to cause harm.
Taking high doses of vitamin A over a period of time can affect the fetus.
What is the most important vitamin in pregnancy?
It’s suggested the most important vitamin for pregnant women is folate, also known as folic acid.
This B vitamin is required by our bodies for healthy growth and development. Every cell in our bodies needs folate.
Consuming folate in the first trimester can prevent birth defects of the spine and brain. These are called neural tube defects (NTDs) and occur in about 3,000 pregnancies each year in the United States.
You might be interested in some facts about Folic Acid For Pregnancy – Facts You MUST Know.
Is vitamin A milk safe during pregnancy?
Although there is minimal research in this area, most health professionals don’t recommend you have milk fortified with vitamin A in pregnancy.
Your diet will usually provide you with all the vitamin A you need.
Should I be taking prenatal vitamins?
As with all decisions about your body and pregnancy, you have to do some research to make an informed choice about taking prenatal supplements.
Speak to your healthcare provider about any potential need you might have for supplementing nutrients. Some women, for example, have low iron levels, or are vitamin D deficient. A good place to start is to have some blood tests to check your vitamin levels.
There is no substitute for a healthy, well-balanced diet. Although some processed, high sugar foods won’t hurt you or your developing baby, eating healthy foods that are nutritionally dense such as vegetables, quality protein and fats is the best decision you can make.
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Symptoms of excessive vitamin A
Excessive vitamin A supplementation has a toxic effect on the body.
In pregnancy, most women will have routine antenatal blood tests. Make sure to remind your care provider you would like to know your vitamin A levels.
The signs and symptoms of too much vitamin A include:
- Blurred vision
- Nausea and vomiting
- Reduced motor coordination
- Intracranial hypertension
- Skin peeling
- Weight loss and fatigue.
Always check with your healthcare provider if you experience any of these symptoms. They can indicate vitamin A toxicity or other problems, and should be investigated quickly.
Vitamin A before pregnancy
The vitamin A you get by eating healthy foods is usually all that is required before deciding to become pregnant. Supplementation isn’t recommended unless you are from a population where vitamin A levels are low.
Most importantly, vitamin A contributes to your baby’s growth, including the development of the circulatory, respiratory, and central nervous systems.
It also makes sure your immune system can fight off infections, which is important when you are planning to become pregnant.