Vitamins in pregnancy: their function and where to find them

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Catherine Le Nevez
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Vitamins in pregnancy

Le Vitamins they are substances belonging to the category of micronutrients, that is fundamental substance for our organism, but only in small quantities. Generally a varied and balanced diet is able to satisfy all the vitamin needs of our body, but in pregnancy it is good to pay particular attention to it, both because the need for some of them increases, and because a lack of them could cause very serious damage to mother and baby. So let's see in detail what the most important vitamins in pregnancy, what their function is and where we can find them.

Vitamin A

  • functions: The main functions of this vitamin concern sight and cell differentiation, as well as having a very important antioxidant activity, counteracting (in part) the damage caused by pollution and smoking. Its deficiency can cause difficulties in night vision, up to blindness, growth inhibition, bone fragility, dryness and peeling of the skin and mucous membranes. On the other hand, its excessive consumption can cause nausea, vomiting, migraines, loss of coordination, visual disturbances, inappetence, muscle pain, anemia, hair loss and various neurological alterations.
  • Where to find it: Liver, butter, egg yolk, milk and cheese are the foods that contain the greatest quantities. Some vegetables are particularly rich in carotenoids, its precursors, for example: carrots, apricots, mangoes, squash, spinach, cabbage, beets, turnip greens, romaine lettuce, red peppers, peas and broccoli.
  • Pregnant: Although the intake of vitamin A is essential in pregnancy and its requirements are higher than normal, its excessive consumption could cause serious harm to the baby (teratogenic effect). For this reason it is advisable to avoid frequent consumption of liver which is particularly rich in it and not to take supplements based on vitamin A. Instead, we favor the consumption of vegetables rich in carotenoids that do not present these risks.
Read also: Foods to eat during pregnancy

Vitamin B9 (Folic Acid)

  • functions: This group includes folic acid and folates; While the latter occur naturally in various foods, folic acid is a synthetic form found in supplements and fortified foods. These vitamins have very important functions in the creation of DNA, RNA and proteins, which is why they are essential in the process of embryo formation. Their deficiency favors some forms of anemia and fetal malformations: neural tube defects, heart, mouth, urinary tract and limb malformations.
  • Where to find it: Folate is particularly present in foods such as: lettuce, spinach, asparagus, broccoli, liver, cereal flakes, soy, milk and eggs.
  • Pregnant: In pregnancy, folic acid needs increase to the point that it is not possible to satisfy them only through a diet rich in folate, therefore the Ministry of Health recommends supplementation through the use of food supplements. The ideal would be to start the integration at least 1 month before conception and continue it up to 3 months after delivery, naturally under the direction and monitoring of your doctor.

Vitamin B12 

  • functions: The main functions of vitamin B12 are to promote the growth of red blood cells, to allow (together with folic acid) the synthesis of DNA and RNA and above all to protect the nervous system through the formation of the myelin sheath that lines the nerves. Its deficiency is in fact the cause of anemia, nervous disorders (tingling in the extremities, problems with balance and memory) and weakness.
  • Where to find it: This vitamin is present only in foods of animal origin. We find it in abundance in meat, fish, egg yolk, milk and aged cheeses.
  • Pregnant: During pregnancy it is good to make sure you take the right quantities of this substance, as a deficiency can cause (as well as folic acid deficiency) birth defects in the fetus. Particularly at risk of deficiency are vegetarian women who consume very modest quantities of foods of animal origin and even more so vegan women, who will inevitably need vitamin B12 supplementation through supplements.

Vitamin C:

  • functions: Vitamin C, known to all as an important ally of the immune system, also performs fundamental functions in the production of collagen (which strengthens blood vessels, skin, muscles and bones), in the decrease of uric acid levels (prevention of gout), as an antihistamine and is a powerful antioxidant, to the point that it is also often used as an additive in industrial products to promote their conservation. Its deficiency can lead to the onset of scurvy, with bleeding, slowing of healing, gingivitis and osteoporosis. In children, it can cause stunting. Low levels of vitamin C favor the onset of atherosclerosis, while excessive dosage can lead to the development of diarrhea and promote the formation of kidney stones.
  • Where to find it: The foods richest in vitamin C are: peppers, rocket, broccoli, kiwifruit, brussel sprouts, lettuce, strawberries and citrus fruits.
  • Pregnant: Consuming vitamin C during pregnancy is essential for brain development and the formation of collagen in the baby. However, this need can be satisfied through a diet rich in vegetables, but its integration is not recommended (unless prescribed by the doctor) as its excess can promote the risk of haemolysis, oxidative damage and premature birth in the child.

Vitamin D

  • functions: Vitamin D promotes the absorption of calcium and its fixation in the bones, intervenes in the differentiation of some cell lines and in some neuromuscular functions and regulates the levels of calcium and phosphorus in the body. 80% of the population of the village is deficient and is therefore at risk of: hyperparathyroidism, muscle weakness, bone deformation and rickets. In case of excessive integration, phenomena such as nausea, diarrhea, hypercalciuria, hypercalcemia, polyuria, calcification of soft tissues can occur.
  • Where to find itFoods are not a good source of intake of this vitamin, however the richest are cod liver oil, fatty fish, eggs and red meats. On the other hand, it is possible to produce this vitamin in the skin, following a consistent exposure to sunlight. To produce adequate quantities it is necessary to be exposed to the sun during the hottest hours of the summer months and without protective screens. As we know, however, this is highly harmful, so it is advisable to limit this type of exposure to about 15-20 minutes (10 if you have particularly fair skin) and otherwise use a good sunscreen and avoid the hottest hours.
  • Pregnant: During pregnancy and breastfeeding, the demands on vitamin D increase to cope with the maturation of the skeleton of the fetus and newborn. By exposing themselves to the sun on a regular basis, this need is generally satisfied, but in the latitudes and villages from October to March this is not possible, so much so that 66% of pregnant women are deficient in vitamin D, with risks for both the mother and for the unborn child (neurological problems, preterm birth, gestational diabetes…). This is why a careful assessment of the need for integration is essential.

Vitamin E

  • functions: The main function of vitamin E is antioxidant, that is, it counteracts the formation of free radicals, preventing cellular aging and some diseases such as tumors.
  • Where to find it: The main sources of vitamin E are seeds and nuts, as well as the oils derived from them; followed by: cereals, fruit and vegetables.
  • Pregnant: Ensuring an adequate intake of this vitamin during pregnancy is very important for the correct development of the fetus and to prevent certain diseases such as gestosis. However, this need is met by a correct and varied diet.

Advice from the dietician

Eating foods rich in vitamins can be totally useless if we don't pay attention to some details:

  • Most vitamins they are sensitive to heat and are destroyed by cooking
  • Some vitamins like C and E are a lot sensitive to light and contact with air
  • The fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E, K) are assimilated only in the presence of fats
  • For a fruit or vegetable to develop vitamins, it needs to ripen in the sun and on the plant.
Read also: Mineral salts in pregnancy

So, remember that it is good to:

  • Alternate between eating raw and cooked vegetables, preferring for the latter a type of cooking that avoids the loss of micronutrients as much as possible (e.g. steam cooking)
  • Always consume fresh vegetables, avoiding long storage periods.
  • Prefer fresh and seasonal vegetables, possibly grown in the country (thus avoiding that they are harvested overseas when they are still immature and lacking in vitamins).
  • Prefer freshly squeezed fruit juices, eat immediately, rather than packaged juices or centrifuged.
  • Always make sure your diet contains the right amounts of good fats (olive oil, dried fruit, blue fish ..)
  • Always consume raw (good!) Extra virgin olive oil, so avoid using it during cooking, but always add it afterwards.
  • Store the oil in a place well protected from light.
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