Vitamins and minerals

Vitamin A

Vitamin A refers to a group of biologically similarly active compounds. Retinol, which is found in animal products, is the most common of these compounds.

  • Large overdoses of the retinol form of vitamin A found in animal products can be harmful to the developing baby and can cause birth defects.
  • The average Finnish diet provides enough vitamin A. Hence, taking vitamin A supplements during pregnancy is not necessary. 
  • Most multivitamins available in Finnish pharmacies do not contain vitamin A in amounts that are harmful to unborn babies.
  • Large overdoses may cause birth defects such as malformations of the nervous system, bones or heart.


The recommended dietary intake of vitamin A per day:

  • Adult women, pregnant women – 800 mcg a day.
  • While breast-feeding – 1,100 mcg a day.

Best sources of vitamin A in an average Finnish diet include meat and eggs, vegetables and potato dishes.

During pregnancy, only limited amounts of liver-based foods are recommended and having liver as a main course should be avoided altogether, because liver is rich in the retinoid form of vitamin A.


Vitamin D

Vitamin D refers to a group of fat-soluble steroid hormone precursors. Vitamin D facilitates the absorption of calcium and phosphate from the small intestine.

  • During pregnancy, you should take a supplement of 10 micrograms (400 IU) of vitamin D a day throughout the year during the dark months of the year from October to March. This advice applies to all pregnant women, irrespective of their individual dietary habits.
  • While breast-feeding, the recommended intake of vitamin D is 10 micrograms (400 IU) a day.

A lack of vitamin D leads to abnormal bone development and growth defects such as rickets in children; and to bone mineralisation defects (osteomalacia) and osteoporosis in adults. Vitamin D deficiency hinders the absorption of calcium and phosphate from the intestine and promotes the leaching of calcium from the bones.
The best dietary sources of vitamin D include fish and dairy products and margarines fortified with added vitamin D.

It is not possible to overdose on vitamin D from your normal diet or sunlight.


Folic acid

Folic acid belongs to the B-group vitamins and is important for normal foetal development. In many population-based studies, sufficient intake of folic acid has been shown to decrease the risk of birth defects. Neural tube defects, in particular, but also oral clefts and heart defects have been associated with insufficient folic acid intake.

According to general international recommendations, all women planning pregnancy should take a daily supplement of 0.4 milligrams of folic acid in addition to a healthy and varied diet, starting three months before conception.

  • Women who have had a pregnancy affected by neural tube defect or belong to other high-risk groups need to take 4.0 milligrams of folic acid a monthdaily.
  • Folic acid is a safe and inexpensive supplement. 0.4 milligram folic acid tablets are sold over the counter in pharmacies. Typically, multivitamins intended for pregnant women contain 0.4 milligrams of folic acid.
  • Foods containing folate include green vegetables, whole grain products, fruit and berries, meat and eggs.



The need for iron varies from person to person. During pregnancy the need for iron increases, because the amount of blood increases and additional iron is needed for the growing baby. When pregnant, it is rare to get all the iron you need from your daily diet.

  • Iron supplements can be taken after 12 weeks of pregnancy, but only if necessary and according to instructions provided by your prenatal clinic.
  • Taking iron supplements during the first trimester does not increase the risk of birth defects. However, it might make nausea and morning sickness experienced in early pregnancy worse.
  • Calcium and antacids which are taken to treat heartburn (calcium, magnesium and aluminium salts) reduce iron absorption.
  • Taking iron supplements prevents thyroxine absorption.


Good dietary sources of iron include meat, offal and whole grains. Heme iron found in animal products is more efficiently absorbed from your intestines than non-heme iron found in plants.

Taking vitamin C with every meal promotes iron absorption, while tea, coffee and dairy products hinder the absorption of iron. In healthy individuals, the absorption of iron is controlled, preventing dietary iron from accumulating in excess in your system.