With so much information available about nutrition during pregnancy, figuring out what is based on scientific evidence can get tricky. Among all of your research you may have heard that too much vitamin A can be toxic to your growing baby, potentially causing birth defects. But before you give up your vitamins or avoid orange vegetables, let’s break down what we know about vitamin A and how you can safely supplement without going overboard.
Vitamin A is an important nutrient in a healthy diet. It is well known that vitamin A supports healthy eyes, immune system, growth, and reproductive health. The recommended daily intake of vitamin A during pregnancy is 770 mcg RAE (which is the same as 2,500 IU from retinol or 5,000 IU from beta-carotene in supplements). The third trimester presents the highest risk of vitamin A deficiency due to how fast the fetus is growing.
Most mothers in the U.S. are not at risk of deficiency as long as they have a healthy diet. However, super high supplemental doses of vitamin A during pregnancy can cause birth defects to the central nervous system, face, skull, and heart. So why is there so much vitamin A in supplements and how can we be sure we are not taking too much?
First it is important to know that there are several types of vitamin A, and the supplement facts label will often indicate which kind they use. Most multivitamins contain vitamin A from beta-carotene, which does not pose any risk to the developing baby. However, some acne and psoriasis medications and creams containing retinoids are not recommended during pregnancy because they can lead to excess vitamin A being absorbed.
The types of prenatal supplements on the market today can vary greatly in their vitamin A content. To reduce the chance of taking too much, choose a prenatal multivitamin with no more than 5,000 IU of vitamin A from beta-carotene. The best and safest way to get just enough vitamin A is through eating a variety of vegetables and fruits like sweet potatoes, carrots, red peppers, spinach, broccoli, and mangoes. A well balanced diet provides you with the nutrition you need for a healthy pregnancy, while your supplement helps to fill the gaps. If you are taking retinol-containing medications be sure to talk with your doctor.
About the author: Jennifer is a dietitian passionate about connecting good nutrition with tasty food. She runs a private practice, Nourish for Life, where she works with new moms and parents of young children to help them eat well and have a healthy relationship with food. She is a mom of one tiny human and two fur-babies, and loves creating yummy new recipes in her free time.
- Azais-Braesco V, Pascal G. Vitamin A in pregnancy: requirements and safety limits. Am J Clin Nut 2000;71(suppl):1325S-33S. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10799410.
- Institute of Medicine. Food and Nutrition Board.” Dietary Reference Intakes (DRIs): Recommended Dietary Allowances and Adequate Intakes, Vitamins Food and Nutrition Board, Institute of Medicine, National Academies.” Available at: https://www.nal.usda.gov/fnic/dri-tables-and-application-reports. Retrieved August 21, 2017.
- “Vitamin A Fact Sheet for Health Professionals.” Office of Dietary Supplements. Available at: https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminA-HealthProfessional/#h2. Retrieved August 21, 2017.
- “Vitamin A supplementation during pregnancy.” World Health Organization. World Health Organization. Retrieved August 21, 2017. http://www.who.int/elena/titles/vitamina_pregnancy/en/.