Essential nutrients

Vitamin and mineral supplements

Essential information to rememberFood is by far the best source of nutrients, even during pregnancy. But since it’s hard to meet all of your requirements for iron and folic acid through diet alone, it is recommended that you take a prenatal multivitamin supplement.

Pregnancy significantly increases your requirements for nutrients such as iron and folic acid.

It is recommended that you start taking a multivitamin containing folic acid two or three months before getting pregnant, and that you continue throughout pregnancy and after giving birth. The prenatal multivitamin should contain at least

  • 0,4 mg of folic acid

AND

  • 16 to 20 mg of iron.

Some women’s needs may differ. Your health professional will suggest an appropriate multivitamin for you.

A few tips

  • Talk to your pharmacist or health professional before taking any vitamin or mineral supplements other than those that have been recommended to you.
  • Some women may find it easier to take chewable prenatal multivitamins. Make sure they contain the recommended quantities of folic acid and iron.

Folic acid

Essential information to rememberEven if you regularly eat foods that contain folic acid, it is recommended that you take a supplement containing at least 0.4 mg of folic acid throughout your pregnancy (see above Vitamin and mineral supplements).

Folic acid is an important vitamin for all pregnant women, especially at the beginning of pregnancy. It helps your baby’s brain develop and reduces the risk of a neural tube defect such as spina bifida and other birth defects.

Foods containing folic acid include

  • Legumes: lentils, Roman and white beans, soybeans (edamame), chickpeas
  • Dark green vegetables: asparagus, spinach, broccoli, romaine lettuce, Brussels sprouts, okra, avocados
  • Orange fruits: papaya, oranges
  • Sunflower seeds
  • Enriched pasta
  • Enriched flour and bread made from enriched wheat flour

Iron

Iron is necessary for increasing blood volume and for the growth of the baby and placenta. Iron intake during pregnancy also allows your baby to build up important reserves for the first months of life. That’s why you need more iron during pregnancy than at any other stage of life.

Iron deficiency can cause health problems for the baby and lead to anemia in the mother.

Here are some foods that contain iron:

Essential information to rememberEven if you regularly eat foods that contain iron, it is recommended that you take a supplement containing at least 16 to 20 mg of iron throughout your pregnancy (see above Vitamin and mineral supplements).

Animal-based foods

  • Meat: beef, lamb, pork, veal, game
  • Poultry: chicken, turkey, ptarmigan
  • Fish: sardines, salmon, trout (except lake trout), halibut, haddock
  • Seafood: shrimp, oysters, mussels, clams
  • Seal and other marine mammals, wild duck, moose, caribou
  • Blood sausage

While liver is an excellent source of iron, it is not recommended for pregnant women because it is too high in vitamin A.

Plant-based foods

  • Legumes: dried beans, lentils, chickpeas
  • Medium or firm tofu
  • Iron-fortified breakfast cereals
  • Certain vegetables: pumpkin, green peas, potatoes, spinach, and other leafy greens
  • Cashews, almonds, pistachios, and their butters
  • Sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, and their butters
  • Iron-fortified pasta and bread

Iron from animal sources is absorbed better than iron from plant sources.

To more effectively absorb the iron contained in plant‑based foods, add foods rich in vitamin C to the same meal: e.g. kiwi, citrus fruits, peppers, cloudberry, broccoli, strawberry, pineapple, Brussel sprouts, snow peas, mango, or cantaloupe. Also, avoid drinking coffee or tea with meals and in the hour that precedes or follows a meal.

Calcium and vitamin D

Calcium plays an essential role in building baby’s bones and teeth and keeping them healthy. To effectively absorb calcium from food, you also need vitamin D.

Here are some good dietary sources of calcium, vitamin D, or both:

Calcium and vitamin D

Essential information to rememberIf you don’t consume a lot of dairy products or fortified soy beverages, make sure your multivitamin also contains calcium and vitamin D.

  • Milk
  • Fortified soy beverages
  • Yogurts fortified with vitamin D

Calcium

  • Yogurt and cheese
  • Tofu with calcium sulphate
  • Canned fish with bones: sardines, salmon
  • Calcium-fortified foods

Most legumes and dark green vegetables also contain small amounts of calcium, as do almonds and certain nuts and seeds.

Vitamin D

  • Oily fish like fresh, frozen, or canned salmon, mackerel, herring, sardines, and lake whitefish
  • Eggs
  • Margarine

Omega-3s

Omega-3 fatty acids contribute to the development of your baby’s brain, nervous system and visual system. That’s why it’s important to make them a regular part of your diet during pregnancy.

Fish are the best source of omega-3s. Opt for oily fish like fresh, frozen, or canned salmon, mackerel, herring, sardines, and lake whitefish (see also Fish and seafood).

You will also find small quantities of omega-3s in other foods such as

  • Canola, flaxseed, and nut oils, and vinaigrettes and soft margarine (non hydrogenated) made with these oils
  • Ground flaxseed, chia seeds, walnuts
  • Foods fortified with omega-3s (e.g., some milks and eggs)

By regularly eating foods containing omega-3s, you can usually meet your requirements through your diet. However, if you decide to take an omega-3 supplement, consult a pharmacist or other health professional (see Natural health products).

Fibre

Fibre is necessary to ensure your intestines work properly. It helps regulate digestion and prevent constipation (see Constipation).

Fibre is found in various categories of foods:

  • Whole grain foods
  • Vegetables and fruits
  • Legumes, nuts, and seeds

Try to make these foods a regular part of your diet. It is also important to stay well hydrated when you increase your intake of high-fibre foods.


Anemia: Condition that can lead to severe fatigue, often caused by a lack of iron in the blood.

Birth defect: Abnormality existing at birth but that developped during pregnancy.

Neural tube: Part of the embryo that develops into the brain and spinal cord (inside the spinal column).

Nutrients: Components of food, including vitamins, minerals, proteins, sugars, and fats.

Spina bifida: Birth defect of the spinal column.