Why is it important to have enough vitamin A during pregnancy? This fat-soluble vitamin is responsible for the growth of your baby from embryo to birth. It’s crucial for virtually every aspect of your child’s well-being.
For example, vitamin A influences the heart, bones, lungs, eyes, and kidneys. It also affects the nervous, respiratory, and circulatory systems (1).
But that’s not all. It’s essential that the mom gets enough vitamin A, too. It helps her fight off infections, metabolize fat, and preserve her eyesight. It also boosts postpartum tissue repair.
- 1 How does vitamin A deficiency affect pregnancy?
- 2 How much vitamin A should you take during pregnancy?
- 3 Where can you get vitamin A?
- 4 How much vitamin A can you take during pregnancy?
- 5 How much vitamin A is safe during pregnancy?
- 6 Sources of Vitamin A
- 7 Conclusion
How does vitamin A deficiency affect pregnancy?
What effect does vitamin A deficiency have on a fetus? Babies who don’t get enough vitamin A in the womb may end up with heart and lung problems and impaired vision. That’s why it’s so important to get enough vitamin A during the first trimester and throughout the pregnancy.
Mothers who don’t get enough vitamin A are likely to have anemia and night blindness.
How much vitamin A should you take during pregnancy?
As the baby grows, vitamin A levels decrease during pregnancy. That’s why doctors recommend supplementation with prenatal vitamins with a healthy diet.
Vitamin A is also called retinol. You may have heard that it’s bad to take retinol during pregnancy and that’s not wrong. Since this is a fat-soluble vitamin, the body stores it. High levels can be harmful to the baby. But there are harsh consequences for taking or eating too little of it.
So, before we go any further, we highly recommend that you discuss your diet including your prenatal vitamin and supplements with your OB/GYN.
Also, things get kind of complicated because there are two types of vitamin A. You’ll probably need more of one and less of the other.
The first is provitamin A carotenoids that come from fruits and vegetables like carrots. (You’ve heard of the most famous called beta-carotene. There are also others like lutein, lycopene, and alpha-carotene.) The body has to convert the carotenoids into retinol to use the vitamin A.
The second is preformed vitamin A which comes from liver, eggs, and milk. This is retinol and it’s absorbed directly by the body.
Now, the modern way of measuring vitamin A is to use a unit called RAE (retinol activity equivalents).
- To get one microgram (mcg or µg) of retinol or preformed vitamin A, you need 12 mcg of beta-carotene or 24 mcg of alpha-carotene
However, on supplement labels, you’ll probably still see the old IU (international units) measurement. But it’s not the same. It’s hard to know how many IU equals RAE unless you know how much of the vitamin A comes from retinol or carotenoids.
- In summary, pregnant women generally need about 770 mcg RAE per day. This is about 70 mcg RAE more than non-pregnant women.
Then, breastfeeding women need about 1300 mcg RAE daily.
You’re lucky if your prenatal vitamin uses the new standard of measurement because then you’ll know exactly how much vitamin A you’re taking.
If it’s labeled with the old IU measurement, the ballpark figure is around 2600 IU for 780 mcg RAE. If it says 5000 IU, it provides around 1500 mcg RAE (2).
Where can you get vitamin A?
The easiest way to supplement with vitamin A is to take a prenatal vitamin. But you can also get retinol or preformed vitamin A from animal liver. Please be cautious as only 3 ounces of beef liver may have more than 8 times the amount of vitamin A recommended for pregnant women. It might be best to skip the organ meats during pregnancy and rely on your vitamin and fruits and vegetables.
As for food, here are some excellent sources of vitamin A:
- 1 baked sweet potato, about 1403 mcg RAE
- 4 ounces of cooked spinach, about 573 mcg RAE
- 4 ounces of raw carrots, about 459 mcg RAE
- 4 ounces sweet red peppers, 117 mcg RAE
Plus, eggs, mangoes, vanilla soft serve ice cream, fortified milk and breakfast cereal, and cantaloupe all provide vitamin A.
If you get your vitamin A from fruits and vegetables, it’s easier for the body to digest if you’ve juiced, grated, or chopped them first. And if you include a little bit of fat, your body will absorb it better.
How much vitamin A can you take during pregnancy?
The official upper limit of pre-formed vitamin A or retinol is 300 mcg per day. This is what comes from animal products or vitamin supplements (unless they rely on carotenoids or fruit and vegetable sources).
A broad US study found that pregnant American women could benefit from 1200 mcg of preformed vitamin A each day supplemented by 1000 mcg as mixed carotenoids (2).
How much vitamin A is safe during pregnancy?
If you’re currently taking anti-acne medication like Accutane, using retinol products on your skin, or getting treatment for psoriasis with a retinol-based product, you should wait at least 6 months or longer after stopping the medication before you get pregnant.
That’s because each of these includes high doses of vitamin A. The vitamin stays stored in the mother’s body fat and can cause serious birth defects or spontaneous abortion (3).
Is 5,000 IU of vitamin A safe during pregnancy? It might be, depending on what type of vitamin A it is and what’s normally in your diet. Please show your prenatal vitamin to your doctor just to be sure.
Here are some of our favorite prenatals and food sources of vitamin A:
|Sources of vitamin A||Benefits|
|Actif Organic Prenatal Vitamin||
|Pink Stork Total Prenatal Vitamin with DHA and Folic Acid||
|SmartyPants Prenatal Formula Daily Gummy Multivitamin||
|Organic Garnet Sweet Potatoes||
|Organic Spinach Powder||
|Whole Foods Market, Sweet Mini Pepper||
|Meyenberg Whole Powdered Goat Milk||
Sources of Vitamin A
Actif Organic Prenatal Vitamin
We heard that this prenatal vitamin comes highly recommended by doctors. Each serving is only one pill which contains over 25 vitamins, minerals, and organic herbs like chamomile and ginger.
Instead of preformed vitamin A or retinol from animal sources, it features beta-carotene from organic annatto. Since it provides 5000 IU, this may be an appropriate solution if you already include a lot of retinol in your diet from eggs, milk, and organ meat. Double-check with your OB/GYN or nutritionist.
Each softgel also has omega-3 fatty acids with DHA and EPA for your child’s brain development. Plus, it uses methyl folate instead of folic acid. That’s good news if you have the gene mutation that makes it hard to absorb folic acid. (A surprising number of American women have it).
If you check the nutritional label, you’ll see that it contains no selenium. That’s smart because most of us get plenty of it from chicken, beef, fish, nuts, and grains. It doesn’t have a lot of calcium or magnesium, either, because most of us get plenty of those from our meals.
To top it all off, the pill includes probiotics for improved digestion and absorption. It’s made with natural and organic ingredients in an FDA-approved facility in the USA. And it’s certified to be free of contaminants and heavy metals.
Pink Stork Total Prenatal Vitamin with DHA and Folic Acid
This doctor-developed prenatal has 1300 mcg RAE of vitamin A from beta-carotene. It’s also vegan and certified to be free of gluten, dairy, soy, and GMOs. Yes, it contains DHA, but it comes from algae.
What’s more, the multivitamin has methyl folate, the easier-to-digest version of folic acid. Similar to the prenatal vitamin above, it doesn’t exaggerate the calcium or magnesium levels, either.
It’s manufactured by a woman-owned and operated company that understands the challenges of pregnancy. Although you’ll need to take 2 of these capsules per day, they don’t taste bad and they smell pretty nice. (It’s probably due to the scented heart-shaped insert in the bottle).
SmartyPants Prenatal Formula Daily Gummy Multivitamin
Who says you have to swallow pills to take your vitamin? Chewable gummies are a tastier option. Of course, this brand of prenatal requires 4 gummies per day but you can take them with or without food.
Each serving includes vitamin A from beta-carotene and retinyl palmitate. On the downside, it’s only 520 mcg, so you may need an additional source of vitamin A in your diet.
It also offers essentials like methyl folate (vitamin B9), choline, vitamin K, and omega-3. Be sure to review the nutritional information with your OB/GYN to make sure there’s enough for your needs.
On the bright side, the gummies are third-party laboratory-tested for purity and potency. They don’t include artificial sweeteners or colors, gluten, fish allergens, shellfish, tree nut allergens, peanuts, milk, or eggs. The flavoring comes from natural sources like fruits, vegetables, herbs, and spices.
Organic Garnet Sweet Potatoes
Earlier in the article, we mentioned that sweet potatoes are a good source of vitamin A. Each average-sized potato has an awe-inspiring amount: 1,403 mcg RAE! That’s almost double what a pregnant woman needs!
Since it comes from a vegetable source like beta-carotene, it’s safe to eat that much. Just keep in mind that it has about 112 calories and 26 grams of carbs. There’s not a lot of protein, either, at only 2 grams. But sweet potatoes have a lot of potassium and no trans fat or cholesterol, and those are good things, too.
Organic Spinach Powder
Food prices are high but you don’t need to forgo eating spinach. Although the fresh-picked leaves might be pricey, frozen spinach is probably cheaper.
You can also get a lot of mileage from freeze-dried spinach powder. One scoop provides about 15% of the daily value of vitamin A. It also has vitamin C, calcium, and iron.
You can use this powder for cooking, baking, and fortifying fruit juices. One serving is about 20 calories, with 2 grams of protein, 2 grams of carbs from fiber, and no fat. It’s a pretty good deal.
Whole Foods Market, Sweet Mini Pepper
Treat yourself to sweet peppers on your next salad. They are impressive little vitamin storehouses. Just 3 of them provide about 35% of the daily value of vitamin A. Moreover, one serving has 270% of the daily value of vitamin C!
Meyenberg Whole Powdered Goat Milk
Cow’s milk has vitamin A, and so does goat milk. People throughout the world find that goat’s milk is easier to digest than cow’s. Yes, it will taste different than what you’re used to drinking. But you may fall in love with this nutrient-rich beverage.
We chose the powdered version because it stays fresh for longer. You don’t have to use it all at once – each serving is ¼ cup and there are 12 in the bag. Therefore, 1 bag makes 3 quarts of milk.
It goes great in coffee or tea, plus you can cook and bake with it or make smoothies.
Each serving offers 80 mcg of vitamin A with a nice amount of folate, calcium, vitamin D, and potassium. It ends up being 140 calories with 7 grams of protein, 10 g of carbs, and no trans fat.
It’s crucial that you get enough vitamin A during pregnancy. But there’s a fine balance because too much vitamin A can be harmful to your baby. Please talk to your OB/GYN or nutritionist about the right amount of vitamin A for your needs and your baby’s healthy development.
1. https://www.babycenter.com/pregnancy/diet-and-fitness/vitamin-a-in-your-pregnancy-diet_675 Vitamin A during pregnancy, by Eva Dasher, medically reviewed by Erin Hinga, M.S., R.D., registered dietitian, published June 7, 2021
2. https://mhnpjournal.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s40748-022-00139-9#Sec104 Adams, J.B., Kirby, J.K., Sorensen, J.C. et al. Evidence based recommendations for an optimal prenatal supplement for women in the US: vitamins and related nutrients. matern health, neonatol and perinatol 8, 4 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1186/s40748-022-00139-9
3. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/263071093_Safety_and_Toxicity_of_Vitamin_A_Supplements_in_Pregnancy Dibley, Michael & Jeacocke, David. (2001). Safety and Toxicity of Vitamin A Supplements in Pregnancy. Food & Nutrition Bulletin. 22. 10.1177/156482650102200304.