Pregnancy Vitamins: What Nutrients does a Fetus need & what Foods should I eat?

by | PREGNANCY

This blog post adds to our video on youtube in which we go through our list of the 9 most important micronutrients every fetus needs. If you have not watched our video so far, we recommend doing that first:

Below, you can find a list of all the nutrients that we mention in our video, including information about recommended intake per day as well as a list of foods which contain the nutrients.

Please note that the foods that we list below may not be suitable for you, for example, because of food intolerances! In general, you should always talk with your provider, which foods are suitable for your particular pregnancy case. 

Calcium

Calcium is one of the most important micronutrients for the baby because it helps build their bone structure as well as their teeth. On top of that, calcium also plays a role in the normal functioning of the circulatory, muscular and nervous system.

 

How much do you need per day? 

According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, pregnant women who are age 18 or younger need 1,300 mg of Calcium per day. Women who are 19 or older need 1,000 mg per day.

 

What foods contain Calcium?

Calcium Content
Yogurt, plain, low fat, 8 ounces 415 mg
Orange juice, calcium fortified, 1 cup 349 mg
Mozzarella, part skim, 1.5 ounces 333 mg
Sardines, canned in oil, with bones, 3 ounces 325 mg
Milk, nonfat, 1 cup 299 mg
Milk, whole (3.25% milk fat), 1 cup 276 mg
Salmon, pink, canned, solids with bones, 3 ounces 181 mg
Cottage cheese, 1% milk fat, 1 cup 138 mg
Soybeans, cooked, ½ cup 131 mg
Breakfast cereals, fortified with 10% of the DV for calcium, 1 serving 130 mg
Spinach, boiled, drained, ½ cup 123 mg
Frozen yogurt, vanilla, soft serve, ½ cup 103 mg
Turnip greens, fresh, boiled, ½ cup 99 mg
Kale, fresh, cooked, 1 cup 94 mg
Chia seeds, 1 tablespoon 76 mg
Chinese cabbage (bok choi), raw, shredded, 1 cup 74 mg
Sour cream, reduced fat, 2 tablespoons 31 mg
Broccoli, raw, ½ cup 21 mg
Apple, golden delicious, with skin, 1 medium 10 mg

Source: USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference (see “Sources” for more information)

Please note: dairy products should be fully pasteurized when consumed during pregnancy! Fully pasteurization means that the product is treated with mild heat which eliminates bacteria.

Moreover, please note that your body also requires Vitamin D in order to optimally absorb the Calcium (more on this below).

Choline

Choline plays an important role in the fetus’ brain development. On top of that, it can also help reduce the risk of some common birth defects.

 

How much do you need per day? 

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOC) recommends that pregnant women get 450 mg of Choline each day.

 

What foods contain Choline?

Choline Content in Miligrams
Egg, hard boiled, 1 large egg 147 mg
Beef top round, separable lean only, braised, 3 ounces 117 mg
Soybeans, roasted, ½ cup 107 mg
Chicken breast, roasted, 3 ounces 72 mg
Beef, ground, 93% lean meat, broiled, 3 ounces 72 mg
Fish, cod, Atlantic, cooked, dry heat, 3 ounces 71 mg
Potatoes, red, baked, flesh and skin, 1 large potato 57 mg
Beans, kidney, canned, ½ cup 45 mg
Quinoa, cooked, 1 cup 43 mg
Milk, 1% fat, 1 cup 43 mg
Yogurt, vanilla, nonfat, 1 cup 38 mg
Brussels sprouts, boiled, ½ cup 32 mg
Broccoli, chopped, boiled, drained, ½ cup 31 mg
Mushrooms, shiitake, cooked, ½ cup pieces 27 mg
Cottage cheese, nonfat, 1 cup 26 mg
Peanuts, dry roasted, ¼ cup 24 mg
Cauliflower, 1” pieces, boiled, drained, ½ cup 24 mg
Peas, green, boiled, ½ cup 24 mg
Sunflower seeds, oil roasted, ¼ cup 19 mg
Rice, brown, long-grain, cooked, 1 cup 19 mg
Bread, pita, whole wheat, 1 large (6½ inch diameter) 17 mg
Cabbage, boiled, ½ cup 15 mg
Tangerine (mandarin orange), sections, ½ cup 10 mg
Beans, snap, raw, ½ cup 8 mg
Kiwifruit, raw, ½ cup sliced 7 mg
Carrots, raw, chopped, ½ cup 6 mg
Apples, raw, with skin, quartered or chopped, ½ cup 2 mg

Source: USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference (see “Sources” for more information)

Iron

During your pregnancy, your body’s demand for iron almost doubles. That’s because iron is used by the body to produce the extra blood that you and your baby need during your pregnancy. Also, if your body does not get enough iron, it can increase the risk of pregnancy-related complications, such as premature birth or a low birth weight.

 

How much do you need per day? 

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOC) recommends 27 mg of iron per day during your pregnancy. This increased amount can be found in most prenatal vitamins. But iron is also contained in many foods.

 

What foods contain Iron?

Iron Content in Miligrams
Breakfast cereals, fortified with 100% of the DV for iron, 1 serving 18 mg
White beans, canned, 1 cup 8 mg
Chocolate, dark, 45%–69% cacao solids, 3 ounces 7 mg
Lentils, boiled and drained, ½ cup 3 mg
Spinach, boiled and drained, ½ cup 3 mg
Tofu, firm, ½ cup 3 mg
Kidney beans, canned, ½ cup 2 mg
Sardines, Atlantic, canned in oil, drained solids with bone, 3 ounces 2 mg
Chickpeas, boiled and drained, ½ cup 2 mg
Tomatoes, canned, stewed, ½ cup 2 mg
Beef, braised bottom round, trimmed to 1/8” fat, 3 ounces 2 mg
Potato, baked, flesh and skin, 1 medium potato 2 mg
Cashew nuts, oil roasted, 1 ounce (18 nuts) 2 mg
Green peas, boiled, ½ cup 1 mg
Chicken, roasted, meat and skin, 3 ounces 1 mg
Rice, white, long grain, enriched, parboiled, drained, ½ cup 1 mg
Bread, whole wheat, 1 slice 1 mg
Bread, white, 1 slice 1 mg
Raisins, seedless, ¼ cup 1 mg
Spaghetti, whole wheat, cooked, 1 cup 1 mg
Turkey, roasted, breast meat and skin, 3 ounces 1 mg
Nuts, pistachio, dry roasted, 1 ounce (49 nuts) 1 mg
Broccoli, boiled and drained, ½ cup 1 mg
Egg, hard boiled, 1 large 1 mg
Rice, brown, long or medium grain, cooked, 1 cup 1 mg

Source: USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference (see “Sources” for more information)

Please note: iron from animal products can more easily be aborbed by the human body. However, if you get your iron mostly from plant-based products or supplements, you should also make sure you get enough Vitamin C. That’s because your body is only able to absorb iron, if you also give your body Vitamin C!

Vitamin A

Vitamin A is a bit tricky. On the one hand, it is very important because it fulfils many important functions, for example, in terms of the development of the lungs, bones and teeth but also skin and vision.

On top of that, too little vitamin A can increase the risk of preterm birth and an underdeveloped baby.

On the other hand, getting too much Vitamin A during the first few weeks of a pregnancy can lead to a higher incidence of birth defects. Therefore, it is normally best to cover the demand for vitamin A through your diet. But it’s best to discuss this with your provider!

 

How much do you need per day? 

The ACOC does not provide any specific recommendations regarding the required amount of Vitamin A per day, while the National Institute of Health recommends 750 mcg per day for pregnant women of 18 years and younger and 770 mcg per day for pregnant women of 19+ years of age. 

Please note though that the typical modern diet normally covers more than enough Vitamin A. Therefore, it may not be recommendable to get additional Vitamin A through supplements, unless recommended by your provider – based on your specific needs. 

This particularly aplies during the first 7 weeks of a pregnancy, when too much Vitamin A can do more harm than good! So, please be very careful with Vitamin A supplementation during your pregnancy and make sure to consulat your doctor before making a decision to take Vitamin A supplements!

 

What foods contain Vitamin A?

Vitamin A Content Micrograms
Sweet potato, baked in skin, 1 whole 1403 mcg
Spinach, frozen, boiled, ½ cup 573 mcg
Carrots, raw, ½ cup 459 mcg
Cheese, ricotta, part skim, 1 cup 263 mcg
Milk, fat free or skim, with added vitamin A and vitamin D, 1 cup 149 mcg
Peppers, sweet, red, raw, ½ cup 117 mcg
Mangos, raw, 1 whole 112 mcg
Breakfast cereals, fortified with 10% of the DV for vitamin A, 1 serving 90 mcg
Egg, hard boiled, 1 large 75 mcg
Black-eyed peas (cowpeas), boiled, 1 cup 66 mcg
Apricots, dried, sulfured, 10 halves 63 mcg
Broccoli, boiled, ½ cup 60 mcg
Salmon, sockeye, cooked, 3 ounces 59 mcg
Tomato juice, canned, ¾ cup 42 mcg
Yogurt, plain, low fat, 1 cup 32 mcg
Baked beans, canned, plain or vegetarian, 1 cup 13 mcg
Summer squash, all varieties, boiled, ½ cup 10 mcg
Chicken, breast meat and skin, roasted, ½ breast 5 mcg
Pistachio nuts, dry roasted, 1 ounce 4 mcg

Source: USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference (see “Sources” for more information)

Omega 3 Fatty Acids

Omega 3 fatty acids are just another super important nutrient for your baby, because your baby needs them for the development of baby’s brain and vision.

 

How much do you need per day? 

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOC) does not recommend a specific amount of Omega 3 fatty acids per day. Instead, they recommend at least two servings of fish or shellfish per week before getting pregnant, while pregnant, and while breastfeeding. A serving of fish is 8 to 12 ounces (oz).

The National Instute of Health recommends 1.4 grams per day for pregnant women. This amount refers to alpha-linolenic acod (“ALA”) only. However, there are no specific recommendations in regards to the two other omega 3 fatty acids.

Please note: there are three kinds of Omega 3 fatty acids: ALA (alpha-linolenic acid), DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid).

The ACOC does not state if one kind of Omega 3 fatty acid should be preferred over the other when pregnant.

 

What foods contain Omega 3 Fatty Acids?

in grams ALA DHA EPA
Flaxseed oil, 1 tbsp 7.26
Chia seeds, 1 ounce 5.06
English walnuts, 1 ounce 2.57
Flaxseed, whole, 1 tbsp 2.35
Salmon, Atlantic, farmed cooked, 3 ounces 1.24 0.59
Salmon, Atlantic, wild, cooked, 3 ounces 1.22 0.35
Canola oil, 1 tbsp 1.28
Sardines, canned in tomato sauce, drained, 3 ounces 0.74 0.45
Salmon, pink, canned, drained, 3 ounces 0.04 0.63 0.28
Soybean oil, 1 tbsp 0.92
Black walnuts, 1 ounce 0.76
Mayonnaise, 1 tbsp 0.74
Edamame, frozen, prepared, ½ cup 0.28
Shrimp, cooked, 3 ounces 0.12 0.12
Refried beans, canned, vegetarian, ½ cup 0.21
Lobster, cooked, 3 ounces 0.04 0.07 0.1
Cod, Pacific, cooked, 3 ounces 0.1 0.04
Kidney beans, canned ½ cup 0.1
Baked beans, canned, vegetarian, ½ cup 0.07
Ground beef, 85% lean, cooked, 3 ounces 0.04
Bread, whole wheat, 1 slice 0.04
Egg, cooked, 1 egg 0.03
Chicken, breast, roasted, 3 ounces 0.02 0.01
Milk, low-fat (1%), 1 cup 0.01

Source: USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference (see “Sources” for more information)

B Vitamins

B Vitamins in general play a very important role in the development of your baby. For example, it was found that a deficiency of vitamin B 12 during pregnancy can lead to metabolic disorders such as diabetes type 2 later in your baby’s life. Because of that, it is very important to make sure your body receives enough B vitamins.

 

How much do you need per day? 

The National Institue of Health recommends 2.6mcg of Vitamin B12 per day during pregnancy and 1.9mg of Vitamin B6 per day. 

We’ll cover Vitamin B9 (Folate) below.

 

What foods contain Vitamin B12?

Vitamin B12 Content Micrograms
Salmon, Atlantic, cooked, 3 ounces 2.6 mcg
Beef, ground, 85% lean meat/15% fat, pan-browned, 3 ounces 2.4 mcg
Milk, 2% milkfat, 1 cup 1.3 mcg
Yogurt, plain, fat free, 6-ounce container 1 mcg
Breakfast cereals, fortified with 25% of the DV for vitamin B12, 1 serving 0.6 mcg
Cheese, cheddar, 1½ ounces 0.5 mcg
Egg, whole, cooked, 1 large 0.5 mcg
Turkey, breast meat, roasted, 3 ounces 0.3 mcg

What foods contain Vitamin B6?

Vitamin B6 Content Miligrams
Chickpeas, canned, 1 cup 1.1 mg
Salmon, sockeye, cooked, 3 ounces 0.6 mg
Chicken breast, roasted, 3 ounces 0.5 mg
Breakfast cereals, fortified with 25% of the DV for vitamin B6 0.4 mg
Potatoes, boiled, 1 cup 0.4 mg
Turkey, meat only, roasted, 3 ounces 0.4 mg
Banana, 1 medium 0.4 mg
Ground beef, patty, 85% lean, broiled, 3 ounces 0.3 mg
Waffles, plain, ready to heat, toasted, 1 waffle 0.3 mg
Bulgur, cooked, 1 cup 0.2 mg
Cottage cheese, 1% low-fat, 1 cup 0.2 mg
Squash, winter, baked, ½ cup 0.2 mg
Rice, white, long-grain, enriched, cooked, 1 cup 0.1 mg
Nuts, mixed, dry-roasted, 1 ounce 0.1 mg
Raisins, seedless, ½ cup 0.1 mg
Onions, chopped, ½ cup 0.1 mg
Spinach, frozen, chopped, boiled, ½ cup 0.1 mg
Tofu, raw, firm, prepared with calcium sulfate, ½ cup 0.1 mg
Watermelon, raw, 1 cup 0.1 mg

Source: USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference (see “Sources” for more information)

Vitamin D

Vitamin D has several functions. First of all, it helps with the metabolism in the body, nerve conduction and general cellular function. Second, Vitamin D is required in order for the body to be able to properly absorb Calcium. As a result, Vitamin D also plays a role in building the baby’s bone structure and teeth, together with Calcium. And third, according to scientific studies, Vitamin D also seems to help prevent pregnancy-related complications, such as pre-eclampsia, gestational diabetes and other problems

 

How much do you need per day? 

According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOC) all women, pregnant or not, need 600 international units (or 15 mcg) of vitamin D a day. The same amount is recommended by the National Institute of Health.

 

What foods contain Vitamin D?

Vitam in D Content Micrograms International Units (IU)
Cod liver oil, 1 tablespoon 34 mcg 1,360
Salmon (sockeye), cooked, 3 ounces 14.2 mcg 570
Mushrooms, white, raw, sliced, exposed to UV light, ½ cup 9.2 mcg 366
Milk, 2% milkfat, vitamin D fortified, 1 cup 2.9 mcg 120
Soy, almond, and oat milks, vitamin D fortified, various brands, 1 cup 2.5-3.6 mcg 100-144
Ready-to-eat cereal, fortified with 10% of the DV for vitamin D, 1 serving 2 mcg 80
Sardines (Atlantic), canned in oil, drained, 2 sardines 1.2 mcg 46
Egg, 1 large, scrambled 1.1 mcg 44
Cheese, cheddar, 1.5 ounce 0.4 mcg 17
Mushrooms, portabella, raw, diced, ½ cup 0.1 mcg 4
Chicken breast, roasted, 3 ounces 0.1 mcg 4

Source: USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference (see “Sources” for more information)

Folate (Folic Acid)

Folate is a B vitamin too which helps form blood cells. Most importantly though, it’s essential for your baby’s growth as well as the normal development of your baby’s brain and spine. In fact, it is recommended to make sure of getting enough folate even months before conceiving.

 

How much do you need per day? 

According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOC) all pregnant women need 600 micrograms of folate (or folic acid) per day. They also say that since it’s hard to get this much folic acid from food alone, you should take a daily prenatal vitamin with at least 400 micrograms starting at least 1 month before pregnancy and during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy.

Moreover, women who have had a child with an NTD should take 4 milligrams (mg) of folic acid each day as a separate supplement at least 3 months before pregnancy and for the first 3 months of pregnancy.

That said, it’s best to discuss with your provider whether you need to supplement with more than 400 micrograms daily.

 

What foods contain Folate?

Folate Content Micrograms
Spinach, boiled, ½ cup 131 mcg
Black-eyed peas (cowpeas), boiled, ½ cup 105 mcg
Breakfast cereals, fortified with 25% of the DV† 100 mcg
Rice, white, medium-grain, cooked, ½ cup 90 mcg
Asparagus, boiled, 4 spears 89 mcg
Brussels sprouts, frozen, boiled, ½ cup 78 mcg
Spaghetti, cooked, enriched, ½ cup 74 mcg
Lettuce, romaine, shredded, 1 cup 64 mcg
Avocado, raw, sliced, ½ cup 59 mcg
Spinach, raw, 1 cup 58 mcg
Broccoli, chopped, frozen, cooked, ½ cup 52 mcg
Mustard greens, chopped, frozen, boiled, ½ cup 52 mcg
Green peas, frozen, boiled, ½ cup 47 mcg
Kidney beans, canned, ½ cup 46 mcg
Tomato juice, canned, ¾ cup 36 mcg
Orange juice, ¾ cup 35 mcg
Turnip greens, frozen, boiled, ½ cup 32 mcg
Peanuts, dry roasted, 1 ounce 27 mcg
Orange, fresh, 1 small 29 mcg
Papaya, raw, cubed, ½ cup 27 mcg
Banana, 1 medium 24 mcg
Egg, whole, hard-boiled, 1 large 22 mcg
Cantaloupe, raw, cubed, ½ cup 17 mcg
Vegetarian baked beans, canned, ½ cup 15 mcg
Milk, 1% fat, 1 cup 12 mcg
Ground beef, 85% lean, cooked, 3 ounces 7 mcg
Chicken breast, roasted, 3 ounces 3 mcg

Source: USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference (see “Sources” for more information)

Iodine

Iodine is essential for your baby’s brain development as well as the normal functioning of the thyroid. And because of that, iodine is just another important nutrient that your baby urgently needs during your pregnancy.

 

How much do you need per day? 

The National Institute of Health recommends 220 micrograms a day during a pregnancy.

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOC) even recommends taking an iodine supplement of 150 micrograms a day during your pregnancy if you consume salt mostly from eating ready-made foods.

 

What foods contain Iodine?

Iodine Content Micrograms
Cod, baked, 3 ounces 158 mcg
Yogurt, Greek, plain, nonfat, 1 cup 116 mcg
Milk, nonfat, 1 cup 85 mcg
Iodized table salt, 1.5 g (approx. ¼ teaspoon) 76 mcg
Pasta, enriched, boiled in water with iodized salt, 1 cup 36 mcg
Egg, hard boiled, 1 large 26 mcg
Cheese, cheddar, 1 ounce 14 mcg
Shrimp, cooked, 3 ounces 13 mcg
Soy beverage, 1 cup 7 mcg
Fruit cocktail in light syrup, canned, ½ cup 6 mcg
Beef, chuck, roasted, 3 ounces 3 mcg
Chicken breast, roasted, 3 ounces 2 mcg
Almond beverage, 1 cup 2 mcg
Apple juice, 1 cup 1 mcg
Raisin bran cereal, 1 cup 1 mcg
Rice, brown, cooked, ½ cup 1 mcg
Corn, canned, ½ cup 1 mcg

Source: USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference (see “Sources” for more information)

Sources

American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists: Nutrition During Pregnancy: https://www.acog.org/womens-health/faqs/nutrition-during-pregnancy. Accessed on 21/09/2021.

Dietary supplement fact sheet: Vitamin A. National Institutes of Health. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminA-HealthProfessional/. Accessed on 21/09/2021

Dietary supplement fact sheet: Vitamin B6. National Institutes of Health. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminB6-HealthProfessional/. Accessed on 20/09/2021

Dietary supplement fact sheet: Vitamin B12. National Institutes of Health. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminB12-HealthProfessional/. Accessed on 20/09/2021

Dietary supplement fact sheet: Calcium. National Institutes of Health. http://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Calcium-HealthProfessional/. Accessed on 21/09/2021

Dietary supplement fact sheet: Choline. National Institutes of Health. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Choline-HealthProfessional/. Accessed on 20/09/2021

Dietary supplement fact sheet: Vitamin D. National Institutes of Health. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminD-HealthProfessional/. Accessed on 20/09/2021

Dietary supplement fact sheet: Folate. National Institutes of Health. http://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Folate-HealthProfessional/. Accessed on 20/09/2021

Dietary supplement fact sheet: Iodine. National Institutes of Health. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Iodine-HealthProfessional/. Accessed on 20/09/2021

Dietary supplement fact sheet: Iron. National Institutes of Health. http://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Iron-HealthProfessional/. Accessed on 21/09/2021

Dietary supplement fact sheet: Omega 3 Fatty Acids. National Institutes of Health. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Omega3FattyAcids-HealthProfessional/. Accessed on 21/09/2021

 

Medical Disclaimer: The information on this page is not intended to diagnose, prevent, mitigate, treat or cure any disease! It is not personal medical advice. We recommend that you ask a doctor whenver you are looking for medical advice!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Nathalie Kaufmann & Mathias Ritter

Nathalie is a pregnancy and birth Consultant and a TCM Therapist with almost 20 years of experience in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), acupuncture, reflexology, Shonishin baby massage techniques, Western and Eastern massage techniques (including TUINA), as well as herbal medicine and nutrition.

She has worked in hospitals across London and was Head of the Maternity Acupuncture Clinic at the Whittington hospital in London. Today, Nathalie runs her own company and helps pregnant women with pregnancy- and birth-related issues. She also specializes in alternative treatments for babies and children.

Mathias is a Researcher and Science Geek who holds two Master of Science degrees. He has been involved in several health-related businesses over the past 10 years and has held presentations about health-related topics across Europe. He specializes in research regarding pregnancy-, birth and baby-related topics.

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