Tag Archives: pregnancy

Fertility and Pregnancy Support – From Conception to Birth


Making the decision to have children may sometimes be easier than getting pregnant. There are many potential causes of infertility, with fertility problems affecting either the man or the woman. Common causes of infertility in women include lack of regular ovulation and endometriosis, and in men the most common cause is poor quality of semen.

Optimum nutrition is absolutely vital for conception and food supplements are useful where an additional intake of specific nutrients is required. AnteNatal Forte provides a combination of nutrients designed to support a woman throughout conception and pregnancy, especially during the first trimester. It is free from vitamin A for those wishing to avoid it, but supplies beta carotene which the body can convert to vitamin A as required. It contains zinc to support normal fertility and reproduction, vitamin B6 which contributes to the regulation of hormonal activity, and folic acid which contributes to normal maternal tissue growth during pregnancy.

ASC Plus provides a combination of synergistic nutrients to support male fertility, including L-arginine, vitamin E, L-taurine, L-Carnitine, zinc and selenium. Zinc supports normal fertility and reproduction, whilst selenium contributes to normal spermatogenesis – the process in which sperm is produced.


Pregnancy and omega-3 – a clever combination for baby’s brain

Assuming normal fertility, the next challenge is pregnancy, where there are significant biological changes which occur including an increased demand for nutrients such as vitamin D, B12, folic acid, iron, calcium, magnesium and zinc.

A healthy baby begins with a healthy mum – eating a well-balanced and varied diet that includes fresh fruit and vegetables, wholegrains, pulses and fish will help to provide the nutrients that you and your baby need. Where an additional intake of nutrients is required, a specific pregnancy supplement can be useful. Pregnancy & Lactation Formula is designed to offer comprehensive nutritional support to women during pregnancy and breastfeeding. It includes folic acid at recommended levels along with vitamin B12, iron, zinc and vitamin A at a level considered safe in pregnancy. It’s also important to avoid harmful habits such as smoking and excessive caffeine or alcohol consumption to help reduce the risk of any pregnancy complications.

Pregnancy and omega-3 – a clever combination for baby’s brain…

NHS recommendations suggest that eating fish during pregnancy is beneficial to your health as well as the development of your baby. However it is suggested that you should avoid consuming more than 2 portions of oily fish per week as it may contain pollutants. Omega-3 fatty acids provide EPA and DHA – maternal intake of DHA has been shown to contribute to normal brain and eye development of the foetus and breastfed infants, making its intake rather important.

Mega EPA is a naturally concentrated fish oil of outstanding quality and high potency. Each capsule provides omega-3 fatty acids in a natural triglyceride form, perfect for everyday use. It is of outstanding purity and free from detectable contaminants, so can safely be used during pregnancy and whilst breastfeeding.

Arrival of the newborn

Some expectant mothers choose to take probiotics throughout their pregnancy, as well as give them to their newborn baby. AnteNatal BioFlora is a clinically proven probiotic for pregnant women containing LAB4B – a specific and clinically proven blend of probiotic bacteria. It has been designed to be used particularly during the last trimester of pregnancy, and provides a guaranteed 10 billion live bacteria per daily intake. Baby BioFlora is an easy-to-use powder and contains the same specialist blend of LAB4B probiotics as AnteNatal BioFlora with the addition of G.O.S (galactooligosaccharide) which is found in high concentrations within breast milk. It is suitable to be given to babies from birth and can be used to help establish intestinal microflora in newborns up to 12 months.


Caffeine linked to low birth weight babies

A new study published in the journal BMC Medicine last month shows that caffeine is linked to low birth weight babies (1).

Caffeine intake is already a concern in pregnancy, with current guidelines recommending that pregnant women restrict themselves to no more than 200mg of caffeine (equivalent to around two cups of coffee) each day.

While the placental barrier does a good job of screening out many infectious agents, it is not able to block environmental pollutants such as pesticides, mercury and PCBs. Likewise, caffeine can cross the placental barrier, resulting in babies that are small for gestational age (SGA).

The study monitored the caffeine intake of more than 60,000 pregnant women. For every 100mg of caffeine each day, the average infant lost an estimated 21-28g. Caffeine intake also increased the length of pregnancy, with caffeine from coffee in particular having the most dramatic effect. This suggests that another substance in coffee may also contribute to the negative effects. For example, decaffeinated coffee retains other stimulants such as theophylline and theobromine.

While coffee is the primary source of caffeine in many diets, there are many other foods and drinks that contribute to overall caffeine intake. This study monitored all sources of caffeine, including coffee, tea, hot chocolate, fizzy drinks, as well as foods such as chocolate and chocolate desserts.

Caffeine can cross the placental barrier, resulting in babies that are small for gestational age

As a general guide, a can of coke contains around 30mg caffeine, a cup of tea contains around 50mg caffeine, and a cup of instant coffee contains around 60mg caffeine. ‘Proper’ coffee will provide an even bigger caffeine hit. A medium cup of coffee from a high street coffee chain can contain around 200mg caffeine. For those who regularly visit high street coffee chains it’s important to note that the amount of caffeine in drinks from these stores can vary wildly making it very difficult to determine how much caffeine you are actually drinking.

Staying hydrated is especially important during pregnancy. Drinking plenty of fluids helps lessen the risks of problems such as constipation, urinary infections, fluid retention and haemorrhoids during pregnancy. The volume of blood in your body, which is made mostly of water, also increases during pregnancy.

So what are the best choices of beverage during pregnancy? Water is the most obvious choice for staying hydrated. Keep a bottle at your desk or carry a small bottle in your bag if you’re out and about. If plain water is too boring, try carbonated water and add a slice or two of lemon or lime.

Naturally caffeine-free teas are another good choice. Redbush tea is naturally caffeine free. Peppermint tea can help ease digestive troubles and ginger tea may help to relieve morning sickness. Fruit smoothies using probiotic yoghurt and digestive-boosters such as milled flax seeds is another great option.

Barley water makes a great anti-inflammatory agent for the urinary system which can be more prone to infection during pregnancy. Buy whole barley, put 40g in a litre of water, boil and simmer for 20 minutes. Add a slice of lemon or the juice of one lemon and simmer for a further 10 minutes. Allow to cool, then sip the water throughout the day.

Finally, green smoothies provide all the antioxidants of fruit juice without the sugar hit, and they can be a great source of minerals such as folate and iron which are needed in greater amounts during pregnancy. Try blending a handful of spinach with an avocado, a dash of apple juice, a cup of water, and three tablespoons of plain yoghurt for a refreshing folate and iron-rich green smoothie.


1. Sengpiel V et al. (2013) Maternal caffeine intake during pregnancy is associated with birth weight but not with gestational length: results from a large prospective observational cohort study. BMC Medicine 11:42.


Maternal Vitamin D levels linked to baby’s brain development

Earlier this year I wrote about a study that links vitamin D in pregnancy with children’s body fat levels. Evidence on the importance of vitamin D in pregnancy continues to grow. More recently, a new population-based study has linked expectant mothers’ vitamin D levels with their children’s brain development (1).

The study, to be published this month in Pediatrics, suggests that pregnant women who are deficient in vitamin D are more likely to give birth to children with slower brain development and decreased motor skills.

The Spanish study, a population-based cohort study recruiting 1,820 pregnant women, was conducted between 2003 and 2008. The women had their vitamin D levels measured during their second trimester of pregnancy. Later, their children’s mental development was assessed by trained psychologists.

Vitamin D
Vitamin D supplements can help raise vitamin D levels in the body to an adequate level during pregnancy

The data showed that 20% of the women were deficient in vitamin D, and a further 32% had ‘insufficient levels’ of the vitamin. The babies of mothers who were deficient in vitamin D scored lower on mental and psychomotor tests at the age of 14 months when compared to children of women with adequate vitamin D levels.

To ensure that the study was fair, the authors used statistical techniques to account for other variables that could have influenced the children’s development. These included factors such as birth weight, maternal age, social class and mother’s education level, and whether or not the mother drank alcohol or smoked during pregnancy.

The differences in scores were significant, with the children of vitamin D deficient mothers scoring 2.6 points lower on mental tests and 2.3 points lower on psychomotor tests. Study leader Dr Eva Morales notes that a difference of just 4-5 points in these such tests could result in halving the number of children with above-average IQ scores. As a result, Morales believes that these differences in scores ‘might have an important impact at the population level’.

This is not the first study to look at the effect of maternal vitamin D on children’s development. A study published by the same journal in March this year indicated links between maternal vitamin D deficiency and children’s neurodevelopment (2). This study found that low vitamin D levels in the second trimester of pregnancy were linked with language impairment in children at the ages of 5 and 10 years old.

While these studies show a link between vitamin D deficiency during pregnancy and children’s brain development, they do not prove the existence of a cause-and-effect relationship. Possible reasons for a link include the known role that vitamin D plays in brain function. For example, vitamin D receptors are present throughout the brain, and the vitamin is essential for the formation of neurotrophins, proteins in the brain that help nerve cells to survive and develop.

According to the UK’s National Diet and Nutrition Survey, up to a quarter of people in the UK have low levels of vitamin D in their blood. In its recent statement on vitamin D requirements, the UK Department of Health considers pregnant and breastfeeding women to be an ‘at risk group’. The current recommendation for vitamin D in pregnancy is 10 mcg, or 400 IU, and the UK Department of Health advises that all pregnant women should supplement this amount. As new evidence comes to light regarding the essential role of this vitamin in children’s development, this advice seems more pertinent than ever.

Written by Nadia Mason, BSc MBANT NTCC CNHC


1. Morales et al (2012) Circulating 25-Hydroxyvitamin D3 in Pregnancy and Infant Neuropsychological Development. Pediatrics. Published online ahead of publication in Sept 2012.

2.Whitehouse A et al (2012) Maternal Serum Vitamin D Levels During Pregnancy and Offspring Neurocognitive Development. Pediatrics Vol. 129 No. 3 pp. 485 -493.



Omega-3 supplements in early infancy may protect against allergies

A recent Australian study provides the first human data showing the benefits of very early postnatal fish oil supplementation in children (1).

The randomised controlled trial, led by Susan Prescott, investigated the effects of fish oil supplements on 420 infants from birth to six months of age. It found that supplementation significantly lowered the allergic response in infants.

Fish Oil for Infants
Products like Igennus Vegepa can be taken by the mother and provided to their infant via breast milk.

Allergies in children are on the rise. In 2004, 39 percent of children were diagnosed with one or more of the allergic conditions asthma, eczema or hayfever. Nobody really knows why allergies are on the increase although factors such as pollution and higher levels of environmental toxins may be partly to blame. Diet may also play a role. Essential fatty acids are important regulators of inflammation and immune response, and so imbalances of these types of fat in the western diet may be partly responsible.

The effects of fish oil supplements during the third trimester of pregnancy have been studied, and benefits include reduced risk of asthma in children. A more recent study has now investigated the effects of fish oil on children’s immune systems during the first 6 months after birth.

In this new study, published in the journal Clinical & Experimental Allergy, each infant was given either a fish oil supplement providing 280 mg of DHA and 100 mg of EPA, or a placebo supplement each day. Signs of allergic response in each infant were then measured at both 6 and 12 months of age.

Blood tests taken at six months of age confirmed that the fish oil group of children had significantly higher levels of EPA and DHA that the control group. Levels of arachidonic acid, an inflammatory omega-6 fatty acid, were also lower in the fish oil group.

The infants who had received the fish oil had significantly lower allergic responses to both dust mites and milk protein. Substances such as interleukin-13, a type of protein involved in allergic responses, were much lower in the fish oil group. Significantly fewer infants in the fish oil group were diagnosed with eczema at 12 months old.

Harry Rice, PhD, Vice President of scientific and regulatory affairs for GOED, the omega-3 trade association, felt positive about the findings. “The present results demonstrating the immunomodulatory properties of EPA and DHA translating into allergy protection suggest that the simple step of supplementation with EPA and DHA in infancy may result in increased quality of life, not to mention decreased health costs, for those afflicted with allergic conditions.”

While there are several pleasant-tasting fish oil supplements formulated for children, few are explicitly recommended for young infants. In fact, the researchers noted that maternal supplementation may be a more efficient way of supplementing breastfed infants who might sometimes reject the capsules through spitting or vomiting. Until further studies have been carried out, the long-term impact of this type of supplementation is not certain. In the meantime, breastfeeding mothers may want to try a good quality fish oil supplement as a nutritional safeguard for their child’s immune health.

Written by Nadia Mason, BSc MBANT NTCC CNHC

1. D’Vaz N, Meldrum SJ, Dunstan JA, Lee-Pullen TF, Metcalfe J, Holt BJ, Serralha M, Tulic MK, Mori TA, Prescott SL (2012) Fish oil supplementation in early infancy modulates developing infant immune responses. Clin & Exp Allergy 42:8 pp1206-1216


CoQ10 aids male fertility

A new study involving 287 infertile men suggests that the nutrient Coenzyme Q10 improves both sperm quality and pregnancy rate.

The study, published in the International Urology and Nephrology Journal, assessed men with idiopathic oligoasthenoteratozoospermia (OAT), meaning that the men had unexplained reduced sperm count and reduced sperm quality.

CoEnzyme Q10
CoEnzyme Q10 may be useful in supporting male infertility and sperm motility

The trial measured the effects on pregnancy rate of supplementation with 300mg of CoQ10 twice a day for 12-months. Over the 12-month period, the overall pregnancy rate was 34.1%. In contrast, the pregnancy rate in non-supplemented infertile men during the same time is around 6.4%.

Sperm samples were also collected before and after supplementation. The results showed that supplementation with CoQ10 improved mean sperm concentration by 113.7%. It also improved motility (forward movement of the sperm) by 104.8% and raised the number of normal forms by 78.9%.

There are a number of reasons why CoQ10 may boost male fertility. In sperm cells, CoQ10 is concentrated in the midpiece of each sperm, acting as an energy promoting agent. The energy for movement and all other energy-dependent processes in the sperm cell depend on this crucial nutrient. CoQ10 is also an antioxidant, preventing lipid per oxidation thereby reducing damage to sperm membranes.

In cases where couples are having difficulty conceiving, it is very common for medical treatment to be focussed on the female partner only. This treatment pathway fails to address the health of the male partner which could be addressed with nutritional changes.  It does appear that couples are short-changed when they are referred for invasive medical treatments, when nutritional changes could in fact be a far less invasive and stress-free alternative. A recent review of male subfertility concluded that “The concept of unilateral care of the female partner, which has gained momentum in the reproductive health community, especially with the advent of in vitro fertilization and intracytoplasmic sperm injection, is counterproductive, and should be discouraged.”

This trial was open-label, meaning some caution is needed in interpreting the results. However, the study will hopefully pave the way for future research in this area.

While couples may not wish to rely exclusively on nutritional supplements and dietary changes to address subfertility, this approach could be used alongside medical treatment to improve chances of success. “Medical treatment with nutraceuticals helps improve sperm parameters, and even if the response is not adequate, increases the response to assisted reproductive technology.” (2)

Coenzyme Q10 is present in beef, pork, oily fish and nuts. However, to reach therapeutic levels of this nutrient, supplementation would be necessary. The recommended dose range of CoQ10 for male subfertility is 60 mg to 200 mg daily.

Written by Nadia Mason, BSc MBANT NTCC CNHC


1. The effect of coenzyme Q10 supplementation on partner pregnancy rate in infertile men with idiopathic oligoasthenoteratozoospermia: an open-label prospective study. MR Safarinejad. Int Urol Nephrol. Vol 44, no3 (2012) 689-700.

2. S. Kalra, B. Kalra, N. Agrawal: Nutraceutical Management Of Male Subfertility: An Update  . The Internet Journal of Family Practice. 2010 Volume 8 Number 2. DOI: 10.5580/1c4a

3. Image Courtesy of graur codrin


Vitamin D in pregnancy linked to children’s body fat

Vitamin D and Pregnancy

New research has linked levels of body fat in children to the Vitamin D intake of their mothers. Children are more likely to be fatter if their mother had low levels of Vitamin D during pregnancy.

The research was conducted by scientists at the Medical Research Council Lifecourse Epidemiology Unit (MRC LEU), University of Southampton. This study looked at the vitamin D status of 977 pregnant women, and then investigated the body composition of their children at three weeks old, and at the ages of 4 and 6.

The analysis took factors such as maternal height, age, number of children, education, and smoking into consideration, as well as vitamin D intake from food and supplements. The study also took into account other factors such as the amount of weight gain in pregnancy, or the amount of physical activity of the children.

Vitamin D in Pregnancy
Good Vitamin D in Pregnancy is very important. Recent research suggests it could support healthy weight levels childhood.

After controlling these variables, the findings from this study showed that the children who were born to mothers who had low vitamin D status in pregnancy had more body fat when they were six years old.

The researchers suggest that Vitamin D deficiency in the womb might ‘pre-programme’ the baby to gain excess body fat later in childhood.

Professor Cyrus Cooper, Director of the unit that conducted the research said that the study underlined life-long effects of maternal nutrition: “The observations that maternal vitamin D insufficiency might be associated with reduced size at birth, but accelerated gain in body fat during early childhood, add to the considerable amount of evidence suggesting that vitamin D status during pregnancy may have critical effects on the later health of offspring.”

Study leader Dr Siân Robinson maintained that further research is needed, but emphasised the importance of understanding the consequences of nutrition in pregnancy. “In the context of current concerns about low vitamin D status in young women, and increasing rates of childhood obesity in the UK, we need to understand more about the long-term health consequences for children who are born to mothers who have low vitamin D status.”

Indeed there are growing concerns about levels of Vitamin D in young women. An estimated 50% of those in the UK are believed to have insufficient levels of this essential nutrient. It is currently recommended that pregnant women should supplement 10 micrograms of Vitamin D each day. Unfortunately many women are unaware of this recommendation and supplementation is not routine.

If you are currently pregnant, or trying to conceive, a suitable multi-vitamin is one of the best steps you can take to safeguard the health of your future children. Vitamin D levels are listed in either micrograms (mcg) or International Units (IU). 10 micrograms is equivalent to 400 International Units.

Alongside supplements, safe sun exposure is the best way to ensure that you’re getting the Vitamin D you need. While protecting the more sensitive skin on your face with a good sun block or a hat, you can expose your arms or legs to give yourself a Vitamin D boost. During the hot summer months, fair skinned women should start with just a few minutes exposure each day, while their skin builds up its natural protection. Foods such as oily fish, eggs and fortified breakfast cereals can also help you to boost your Vitamin D status.

Under the NHS Healthy Start scheme, pregnant women are entitled to free Vitamin D supplements. Alternatively you can take a good quality multi-vitamin and mineral formula that provides 10mcg of Vitamin D alongside the full spectrum of vitamins and minerals to support a healthy pregnancy.

Written by Nadia Mason, BSc MBANT NTCC CNHC


1. UniversityofSouthampton. “Children’s body fat linked to Vitamin D insufficiency in mothers” ScienceDaily, 23 May 2012. Web. 27 May 2012.



Nutrition in pregnancy and lactation

Pregnancy is a time for substantial changes in a woman’s body in many ways, including hormonal, mental and physical. This growth and development process needs fuel and constant support, and the overall nutritional status of the mother is central to the outcome of the pregnancy and health of the baby.

Birth defects, birthing complications and health risks in childhood and adulthood are substantially reduced if the mother has a healthy diet. This not only provides the baby with the fuel to grow and develop, but it also helps after birth as it influences the milk produced during lactation which sets the child up for the future.

A recent review of nutritional requirements in pregnancy and lactation was published in the Professional Nursing journal (1) which explained the increases in the nutritional demands for the pregnant/lactating female and the importance of this both in the short and long term.

The authors described how the energy intake requirements increase during pregnancy and lactation. Peaking in the third trimester, the accompanying weight gain needs to be steady and consistent based on the mothers pre-pregnancy weight (from 32.5-45lb weight gain in underweight mothers, to 12.5-22.5lb in overweight mothers). The authors also commented on research findings for macronutrients; reporting required increases in protein by 25g a day, especially in the final quarter of the pregnancy and an average serving of fish or chicken is approximately 22-24g.

Extra Carbohydrates are required through pregnancy
Extra Carbohydrates, such as wholemeal bread and one macronutrient that is required through pregnancy.

The diet also needs to consist of 50-65% carbohydrates with a daily minimum of 175g carbohydrates during pregnancy and 210g during breastfeeding. This is equivalent to a daily serving of 250g of wholewheat pasta with 3-4 slices of wholemeal bread.

Essential fatty acids such as omega 3 are vital during this stage of life. An intake of at least 200mg/day of DHA is reportedly needed for reducing birthing complications. Two portions of fish are recommended each week, however due to high mercury contents shark, swordfish and king mackerel should be avoided. Good options would be sardines, herring or salmon. Fatty acids excluding vitamin A may be supplemented in pregnancy and Udos Choice is a popular addition to many pregnancy health regimes.

Micronutrient demands are also escalated during this time and any nutritional deficiency in the mother can considerably impact on the unborn child’s development. As a result the authors commented on the essential need for dietary increases in iron, folic acid, zinc, selenium, chromium, iodine, riboflavin, niacin, vitamins A, B6, B12, C, and pantothenic acid. Additionally, they recommend a multivitamin including these nutrients but without large doses of vitamin A (as this is related to increased birth defects). These nutrients are associated with reduced risks to the child and a better pregnancy outcome.

The authors also reported findings that supplementing calcium in pregnancy is also associated with decreases in complications such as pre-eclampsia, gestational hypertension and pre-term birth as well as improved birthing outcomes.

If you are  considering starting a family or are already pregnant or lactating, you may wish to source a multivitamin without vitamin A such as the Bio Health One-A-Day Bio-Caps that contains folic acid, calcium and iron as well as a good quality, pure essential fatty acid supplement. Folic acid and iron can help prevent Spina Bifida and pregnancy-related anaemia, so ensuring intake of these nutrients is particularly important. A wide ranging, balanced diet is essential and should not be replaced by supplements.  This considered focus on your health plan may help to provide your child with a healthy future and reduce the risks of complications during these demanding times.

Written by Lauren Foster


(1) Labuschagne, I.L., Ackerberg, T.S. & Lombard, M.J. (2012) Optimal nutrition during pregnancy and lactation. Professional Nursing,16(1), 26-29.


Micronutrients before pregnancy boost baby’s immune system

Women who supplement with micronutrients before pregnancy may be boosting the immune health of their baby from birth to adult life, a new study suggests.

Micronutrients are vitamins and minerals, such as the B vitamins and the minerals zinc and selenium, that are required by the body in very small quantities in order to perform many crucial bodily processes.

Micronutrient supplementation before pregnancy can improve your child's immune system
Micronutrient supplementation before pregnancy can improve your child's immune system

The new research took place in Gambia, where individuals born during the ‘wet’ season (when there is less food and nurients available), have higher rates of infection and disease. The women in the study were given either a micronutrient supplement or a placebo until they became pregnant. The study then tested samples of DNA from babies at birth again at 9 months old.

The results suggested that the supplemented mothers had babies with healthier immune systems as a result of methylation changes. “These changes are part of the normal development of the immune system provided adequate nutrition is available.” Explained lead researcher Professor Affara. “Where this is not the case, the result is likely to be reduced ability to fight infection and hence susceptibility to infectious diseases.”

The type of changes in the supplemented mothers were created by a better rate of ‘methylation reactions’. Methylation refers to a special set of chemical reactions in the body. These reactions work like a ‘switch’ in your body, activating beneficial chemicals, and deactivating harmful ones. The methylation cycle is important for immune function, and so if methylation is not working optimally, then our ability to fight infection is impaired.

Professor Affara added: ” If we have an improved understanding of what nutrition is important, we can target nutritional intervention to improve health in later life.”

While many of us are aware of the importance of nutrients such as folic acid in pregnancy, it is becoming increasingly evident that the whole spectrum of vitamins and minerals have an important role to play. The current study certainly indicates that mothers who ensure optimum nutrition before pregnancy are supporting the immune health of their children not only at birth, but throughout their child’s life.

Written by Nadia Mason, BSc MBANT NTCC CNHC


The paper ‘Periconceptional maternal micronutrient supplementation is associated with widespread gender related changes in the epigenome : a study of a unique resource in the Gambia’ will be published in the April 2012 edition of Human Molecular Genetics.


Pregnant women should consume more vitamin D

Pregnant women could, and should, consume more vitamin D than experts currently recommend, according to a new study.

BetterYou D-Lux Pregnancy Spray
"Pregnant women need to take at least 1,000iu of vitamin D a day," says Dr Bruce Hollis

Current guidelines for daily vitamin D intake during pregnancy range from 200 international units (IU) per day to 400iu. For decades, doctors have worried that too much vitamin D during pregnancy could harm the mother and baby but growing research is proving pregnant women require more and not less sun.

The vast majority of our knowledge of the impact and importance of vitamin D has come from research within the last decade. Vitamin D is not only essential during pregnancy, research now states that supplementing with 1,000iu daily or more may actually reduce the risk of complications (1). A baby is born with around 50-60% of the Mother’s vitamin D levels (2). If the Mother is deficient then so will the baby. It has been proven that babies born in Spring have a higher propensity for illness than those born in Autumn, the reason being the Mother’s exposure, or lack of it, to sunlight.

A well referenced study looked at women in their second trimester and beyond. In the study, 500 women who were at least 12 weeks pregnant took either 400iu, 1,000iu, or 4,000iu of vitamin D per day. The women who took 1,000iu and 4,000iu were least likely to go into labour early, give birth prematurely, or develop infections.

“Pregnant women need to take at least 1,000iu of vitamin D a day,” says Dr Bruce Hollis, Director of paediatric nutritional sciences at the Medical University of South Carolina and one of the authors of the study. “The ideal would be 4,000iu. In the higher dosage groups we didn’t see a single adverse effect. It was absolutely safe, and we saw a lot of improved outcomes. The risk of preterm labour was vastly decreased and so was the risk of other complications of pregnancy.”

Taking supplements is the only practical way to consume that much vitamin D as to rely on food as a way of ensuring our daily amount is simply not feasible for our modern diets and lifestyles. A glass of milk delivers around 5iu, two eggs will give you 40iu and a portion of cheese around 50iu. Wild salmon is a good source providing around 500iu within a decent portion. However if the salmon is from a farmed source that quantity reduces dramatically to around 100iu!

Exposure to direct and unprotected sunlight is the most effective way of achieving our required levels but this is proving difficult as our modern lives keep us inside for longer periods of time. Add to this the fact that the UK is one of the cloudiest countries in the industrialised world. What we fail to remember is that our bodies only begin to store vitamin D at a blood level of 40ng/ml. The average blood level in Britain during Summer months is only 32ng/ml with Winter averaging on 19ng/ml! (4, 5)

“There are no risks,” Hollis adds, “as the conventional wisdom about the dangers of too much vitamin D was manufactured and based on flawed data”. “There was never any real harm, just misconceptions.”

Michael F. Holick, M.D., a professor of medicine, physiology, and biophysics at the Boston University School of Medicine, has maintained for years that getting too little vitamin D is worse than getting too much. Although doctors have been taught that vitamin D is toxic in large amounts, he says, vitamin D intoxication is extremely rare and easy to treat. The levels of vitamin D recommended in the study are sensible, Holick says. Previous research suggests that pregnant women who get too little vitamin D are more likely to develop high blood pressure and muscle cramping, he says. “Giving 4,000 IU a day to pregnant women not only doesn’t cause toxicity, but may improve birth outcomes,” Holick says. “The risks of vitamin D during pregnancy are overblown and the benefits are understated.” (5)

Prompted by the recent flood of research on vitamin D deficiency, the Institute of Medicine, an independent organization that advises the U.S. Government on health matters, is now considering whether to raise its guidelines for vitamin D intake, including those for pregnant women (currently 200iu per day) and the maximum safe daily dose (currently at 2,000iu). The new guidelines are expected to be announced in 2012/13.

Written by Andrew Thomas from BetterYou

1, 5: Randomized comparison of the effects of the vitamin D3 adequate intake verus 100mcg (4,000iu) per day on biochemical responses and the wellbeing of patients. R Vieth, S Kimball, A Hu, PG Walfish. July 2004.

2: Sunlight Robbery – Health benefits of sunlight are denied by current public health policy in the UK. Oliver Gillie. A report presented at The House of Commons, November 2005.

3: Assessment of dietary vitamin D requirements during pregnancy and lactation. BW Hollis, CL Wagner, Medical University of South Carolina, American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, May 2004.

4: Zittermann, A., Scheld, K., and Stehle, P., Seasonal variations in vitamin D status and calcium absorption influence bone turnover in young women. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 1998. 52: p501-506.

5: Sunlight Robbery. Oliver Gillie, Health Research Forum, 2004.


Iron Supplementation During Pregnancy Could Prevent Complications

Anaemia occurs when haemoglobin levels fall below the lower safe limits. This is often more common in pregnancy due to the higher demands that the growing foetus puts on the body. The leading cause of anaemia is iron-deficiency which generally results in symptoms such as weakness, fatigue and light-headedness. This happens because iron is a compulsory mineral for transporting oxygen around the body through the blood to tissues as well as being used for enzymes that produce energy. Therefore if the body is deficient, these essential processes will decline and the symptoms will become apparent in the sufferer.

Iron Supplementation During Pregnancy
Iron supplementation during pregnancy could prevent anaemia induced pregnancy complications and newborn abnormalities.

Eating foods containing iron can help this deficit. Eating the following foods can help to increase your iron uptake: Sun dried tomatoes, sunflower seeds, dried apricots, foods from the bean family, tofu, raisins, whole wheat bread and of course, spinach in addition to meats including chicken, turkey and beef.

Females’ iron stores are often already limited due to their monthly menstrual blood losses (which in rare cases may also be present in pregnancy) and, during pregnancy, the body attempts to compensate for the increases in blood quantity caused by the growth of the unborn child. Therefore although the overall nutritional needs of the mother increase significantly in pregnancy, iron needs can surpass other nutrient requirements during this time. The average pregnant woman needs approximately twice as much iron as she would normally require (about 30mg a day) (1), and it is when this need is not met that pregnancy induced iron-deficiency anaemia occurs.

A recently published study (2) investigated the efficacy of iron supplementation in anaemic pregnant women based on incidences of pregnancy complications and birth outcomes. The authors did this by comparing incidences of problems in pregnancy and the outcome of the birth with iron deficiency and iron supplementation in those who gave birth to malformed newborns or healthy babies. The study published in the journal Nutrition in 2011, used medically recorded data from the population based Hungarian Case Control Surveillance System of Congenital Abnormalities, which is a set of information about birthing outcomes. Of the 22,843 cases with abnormalities, a significant 16% had mothers with anaemia.

Early diagnosed anaemic pregnant women who were not supplemented with iron had shorter delivery ages and significantly higher premature births, however this was not found in those who had been supplemented with iron. The authors found a 0.4 week shorter mean gestational age in anaemic women without iron supplementation than those with iron supplementation and preterm births were also lower with iron treatment. The incidence of complications in pregnancy was higher for anaemic mothers, and iron treatment was also found to reduce severe nausea and vomiting. The authors also found that the improvements in complications and birthing outcomes were greater in those that had supplemented with both iron and folic acid together.

Based on these findings, if you are pregnant or are planning on becoming pregnant, you may want to consider supplementing your diet with both iron and folic acid. However, you must always consult your GP or Health Practitioner before embarking on any new supplement regimen.


Written by Lauren Foster


(1) Miller, R.S. (2011) Nutritional needs during pregnancy. Nursing Made Incredibly Easy, 9, 5, 21–24.

(2) Banhidy,F., Acs, N, Puho, E.H., Czaizel, A.E. (2011) Iron Deficiency Anaemia: Pregnancy Outcomes With or Without Supplementation. Nutrition, 27, 1, 65-72.