Vitamin A in pregnancy

Milk high in vitamin A

Most women are probably aware of the link between excessive vitamin A during pregnancy and the risk of birth defects. This is why most prenatal supplements don’t contain vitamin A (often listed on the bottle as retinyl palmitate).

So what most supplement companies do instead is add betacarotene to their supplements because it’s presumably safer.  It only converts to vitamin A in the body if it needs it.

The problem is that betacarotene is only one of the carotenoids that occur naturally in foods. Taking betacarotene on its own leads to a 50% inhibition in the absorption of lutein, another carotenoid. Add to that, the fact that 25% of white people are unable to convert betacarotene into vitamin A. So supplementing with it may be useless.

In my opinion, it is pretty easy to get all of your vitamin A requirements from your diet.  For vitamin A you need full fat (preferably organic) dairy products.  These will also provide you with other important nutrients during pregnancy such as calcium. Eggs are a fantastic source of vitamin A as well as fatty fish and meat. However, be careful not to eat liver or pate. The vitamin A content contained in these foods is too high for pregnancy and may cause birth defects.

When I was pregnant, I had plenty of banana and mango smoothies, milkshakes and the occasional ice cream. I didn’t feel guilty about it at all. I knew that even though these were treat foods, they provided my baby with some fantastic nutrients. These treats are a far better choice than soft drinks and lollies which don’t provide any nutritional value.

To obtain carotenoids from your diet eat plenty of orange, yellow and red fruit and veggies. Capsicums, carrots, sweet potato, apricots, papaya and green leafy vegetables are a great choice.

If you have morning sickness the thought of eating veggies can repulse you. Try eating raw carrots and having 3 pieces of fruit daily like mangoes or nectarines.

Be careful of supplementing with cod liver oil during pregnancy too. The amount of vitamin A per teaspoon can vary from 270mcg to 1500mcg so it can be easy to overdose.

The recommended daily intake of vitamin A during pregnancy is 800mcg retinol equivalents.

Here is a list of foods high in vitamin A:

  • 1 cup full cream milk = 92mcg
  • 1 cup full fat yoghurt = 83mcg
  • Chicken breast = 36mcg
  • 85grams mackerel = 42mcg
  • 28 grams cheddar cheese = 90mcg
  • 2 eggs = 186mcg
  • 1 T butter = 130mcg
  • ½ cup ice cream (as a special treat!) = 162.9mcg

Like most nutrients, vitamin A is yet another building block essential to your baby’s growth and development. It also helps support your immune system, so it is important to make an effort to obtain it from your diet.

If you are a vegan, you should speak to your naturopath, nutritionist or dietician about supplementing.

I would recommend a supplement that contains Dunaliella Salina, a type of microalgae rich in mixed carotenoids including betacarotene. That is why I chose to use Dunaliella Salina in the NaturoBest range of prenatal supplements.

Disclaimer – This advice does not replace medical advice. Always consult a health professional.