Taking vitamins while pregnant

Maintaining a well-balanced diet is one of the best things you can do for your body. This is especially true when you’re pregnant. Foods rich in the eight B vitamins (known as B complex) play an important role in supporting a healthy pregnancy.

Mary L. Rosser, MD, PhD, attending physician at the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology and Women’s Health at Montefiore Medical Center, Bronx, New York, explains that, “they keep your body strong while your baby is growing. They also change food into energy, giving you that needed boost during your pregnancy.” This natural energy lift will help if you’re feeling tired during your first and third trimesters.

Each of the B vitamins listed below is packed with benefits for you and your growing baby.

Vitamin B-1: Thiamine

Vitamin B-1 (thiamine) plays a huge part in your baby’s brain development. Pregnant women need about 1.4 milligrams of vitamin B-1 daily. Natural sources of vitamin B-1 are found in:

  • whole grain pastas
  • yeast
  • pork
  • brown rice

Vitamin B-2: Riboflavin

Like all B vitamins, B-2 (riboflavin) is water soluble. This means that your body doesn’t store it. You must replace it through your diet or prenatal vitamins.

Riboflavin keeps your eyes healthy and your skin look glowing and refreshed. Pregnant women should take 1.4 mg of riboflavin daily. Women who are not pregnant need 1.1 mg daily. The following foods are filled with riboflavin:

  • chicken
  • turkey
  • fish
  • dairy products
  • green vegetables
  • eggs

Vitamin B-3: Niacin

Vitamin B-3 (niacin) works hard to improve your digestion and nutrient metabolism. Doctors recommend that pregnant women take 18 mg daily. A delicious lunchtime sandwich made with whole-grain bread and fresh tuna salad would be an excellent source of niacin.

Vitamin B-5: Pantothenic acid

Vitamin B-5 (pantothenic acid) helps create hormones and ease leg cramps. Pregnant women need roughly 6 mg of pantothenic acid daily. Breakfast that includes a good amount of B-5 could be scrambled egg yolks, or a bowl of whole-grain cereal.

Follow up with a vitamin B-5-rich lunch of brown rice stir-fry with broccoli and cashew nuts. An afternoon snack of peanut butter-filled cookies and a glass of milk can complete your daily requirements.

Vitamin B-6: Pyridoxine

Vitamin B-6 (pyridoxine) plays a part in your growing baby’s brain and nervous system development. It also is vital for producing norepinephrine and serotonin. These are two important neurotransmitters (signal messengers). Pyridoxine can help ease pregnancy symptoms of nausea and vomiting.

“We often recommend vitamin B-6 for relief of nausea in early pregnancy,” explains Amelia Grace Henning, CNM at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts. “Typically, between 25 to 50 mg up to three times a day.” But, doctors advise that pregnant women should not go over the recommended daily dose.

Some natural sources of vitamin B-6 include:

  • whole-grain cereals
  • bananas
  • nuts
  • beans

Vitamin B-7: Biotin

The U.S. Food and Nutrition Board of the National Academy of Science’s Institute of Medicine recommends a daily intake of 30 mcg of vitamin B-7 (biotin) during pregnancy (35 mcg for breastfeeding women). Pregnancy can often cause a biotin deficiency. So, make sure you’re getting enough. Vitamin B-7-rich foods include:

  • liver
  • egg yolks
  • Swiss chard
  • milk
  • yeast

Vitamin B-9: Folic acid

Vitamin B-9 (folic acid) might be the most important B vitamin to take during pregnancy. The March of Dimes recommends that women of childbearing age take 400 mcg of vitamin B-9 daily before and after pregnancy.

Your folic acid needs will increase when you become pregnant. Vitamin B-9 can help to reduce your baby’s risk for developing birth defects, including spina bifida and other neural tube defects. Vitamin B is also essential to produce red blood cells.

Taking a prenatal vitamin daily with at least 600 mcg of folic acid, and eating folate-rich foods, will ensure that you get the right amount. Sources of folic acid include:

  • oranges
  • grapefruits
  • green, leafy vegetables like spinach
  • broccoli
  • asparagus
  • nuts
  • legumes
  • breads and cereals

Vitamin B-12: Cobalamin

B-12 (cobalamin) helps to maintain your nervous system. Sources of vitamin B-12 include:

  • milk
  • poultry
  • fish

The recommended amount of cobalamin during pregnancy is roughly 2.6 mcg per day.

But, doctors also believe a vitamin B-12 supplement along with folic acid (found in prenatal vitamins) will help prevent birth defects such as spina bifida and defects that affect the spine and central nervous system.

The takeaway

B-1 (thiamine)plays a big part in your baby’s brain development
B-2 (riboflavin)keeps your eyes healthy, and your skin glowing and fresh
B-3 (niacin)improves digestion and can ease morning sickness and nausea
B-5 (pantothenic acid)helps create pregnancy hormones and eases leg cramps
B-6 (pyridoxine)plays a big part in your baby’s brain and nervous system development
B-7 (biotin)pregnancy can cause biotin deficiency, so increase your intake
B-9 (folic acid)can reduce your baby’s risk of developing birth defects
B-12 (cobalamin)helps maintain you and your baby’s spine and central nervous system

Routine supplementation of vitamin B complex beyond what’s included in prenatal vitamins is typically not recommended, says Henning. “While there may be some research in this area, data to date has not supported changes in routine supplementation.”

Take simple steps to eat a well-balanced diet filled with a combination of these B vitamins to keep you and your baby strong and healthy.