Vitamin A In Pregnancy: Importance, Dosage, And Sources

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An adequate intake of vitamin A in pregnancy can benefit maternal and fetal well-being. The nutrient plays a crucial role in fetal development and keeps the mother healthy. You can get vitamin A through various food items. Vitamin A supplements may also be considered if your doctor prescribes them. Despite the benefits of vitamin A, its excess intake may increase the risk of congenital malformationsiStructural or functional abnormalities that develop during the fetal period. . Read on to know the importance of vitamin A in pregnancy and the right amount to consume.

In This Article

Why Is Vitamin A Important During Pregnancy?

Vitamin A is an essential micronutrient available abundantly in most foods and occurs in two forms (1).

  • Preformed vitamin A (from animal sources): It includes retinol and retinyl estersiA kind of vitamin A used to make supplements and fortified foods. directly absorbed in the body.
  • Provitamin A carotenoids(from plant sources): It includes beta-caroteneiA natural dye that gives color to fruits and vegetables and gets converted into vitamin A in the human body. that needs to be converted to retinol in the body for absorption.

Vitamin A contributes to the expecting mother’s and the fetus’ health in the following ways (2).

For the mother:

Vitamin A during pregnancy helps in postpartum tissue repair.

Image: Shutterstock

  • Helps in postpartum tissue repair
  • Maintains normal eyesight
  • Strengthens immune system
  • Maintains the functional capacity of the female reproductive system

For the fetus:

  • Assists in bone development
  • Promotes fetal organ development and bone health
  • Helps in the growth and formation of epithelial tissueiA thin protective layer of tissue that forms the outer covering of the body and also lines the glands and organs.

protip_icon Quick fact
Vitamin A helps maintain maternal night vision and fetal ocular health (9).

How Much Vitamin A Is Required During Pregnancy?

According to the National Institute of Health, the recommended dietary allowance (RDA) of vitamin A for pregnant women between the ages of 19 and 50 years is 770 micrograms (3). RAE is the standard measurement of vitamin A and stands for retinol activity equivalents (RAE). It indicates the potency of the vitamin A source (retinol or provitamin A).

One microgram (mcg) of RAE is equivalent to any one of the following values.

  • 1 mcg retinol
  • 2 mcg beta-carotene from supplementation
  • 12 mcg beta-carotene from diet
  • 24 mcg alpha-carotene
  • 24 mcg beta-cryptoxanthiniA naturally occurring fruit pigment that is also present in human blood and tissues.

Sometimes, vitamin A is also measured in international units (IU). The conversions of IU to RAE are as follows.

  • 1 IU retinol = 0.3 mcg RAE
  • 1 IU supplemental beta-carotene = 0.3 mcg RAE
  • 1 IU dietary beta-carotene = 0.05 mcg RAE
  • 1 IU dietary alpha-carotene or beta-cryptoxanthin = 0.025 mcg RAE
protip_icon Quick fact
Vitamin A supplementation can help prevent anemia and maternal infection (10).

What Are The Good Sources Of Vitamin A?

The following foods are rich sources of vitamin A.

FoodServingMicrograms (mcg) RAE per servingPercentage daily value
Beef liver, pan fried3 ounces6,582731
Sweet potato, baked in skin1 whole1,403156
Spinach, frozen, boiled½ cup57364
Pumpkin pie, commercially prepared1 piece48854
Carrots, raw½ cup45951
Ice cream, French vanilla, soft serve1 cup27831
Cheese, ricotta, part skim1 cup26329
Herring, Atlantic, pickled3 ounces21924
Milk, fat free or skim, fortified with vitamin A1 cup14917
Cantaloupe, raw½ cup13515
Peppers, sweet, red, raw½ cup11713
Mangos, raw1 whole11212
Breakfast cereals, fortified with 10% of the DV for vitamin A1 serving9010
Egg, hard boiled1 large758
Black-eyed peas (cowpeas), boiled1 cup667
Apricots, dried, sulfured10 halves637
Broccoli, boiled½ cup607
Salmon, sockeye, cooked3 ounces597
Tomato juice, canned¾ cup425
Yogurt, plain, low fat1 cup324
Tuna, light, canned in oil, drained solids3 ounces202
Baked beans, canned, plain or vegetarian1 cup131
Summer squash, all varieties, boiled½ cup101
Chicken, breast meat and skin, roasted½ breast51
Pistachio nuts, dry roasted1 ounce40

Source: Vitamin A, National Institute of Health.

A balanced diet should supply the required vitamin A during pregnancy for optimal nutrition. However, if you have any micronutrient deficiencies, your physician may recommend vitamin supplements. Do not take supplements unless prescribed by a healthcare provider since they may have side effects.

Is Too Much Vitamin A Bad During Pregnancy?

Vitamin A toxicity may cause headaches.

Image: Shutterstock

An intake of more than 4500mcg RAE (15,000 IU) of dietary vitamin A or 3000mcg RAE (10,000 IU) of supplemental vitamin A can lead to toxicity, also termed hypervitaminosis. A few studies state that vitamin A toxicity during the early stages of pregnancy could lead to congenital malformations (2) (4). Hence, consume foods rich in vitamin A as part of a balanced diet and avoid supplementation during pregnancy unless prescribed by your doctor.

The symptoms of vitamin A toxicity include the following.

  • Dizziness
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Loss of balance
  • Fatigue
  • Headache
  • Vertigo
  • Blurred vision
  • Weight loss

Apart from supplements, regular liver intake may also cause vitamin A toxicity since it is rich in this nutrient. Speak to your doctor or dietician regarding the right food choices to safely get adequate vitamin A intake.

How To Safely Consume Vitamin A During Pregnancy?

Include vitamin A-rich foods as part of a balanced diet.

Image: Shutterstock

The following tips could help you avoid overdosing on vitamin A.

  • Avoid taking vitamin A supplements if you consume liver and other food preparations made with liver frequently.
  • Speak to your doctor before taking any prenatal vitamin supplements to prevent overdosing.
  • Generally, multivitamins proposed to pregnant women contain a number of vitamin A units.
  • Include vitamin A-rich fortified foods as part of a balanced diet and avoid overeating a specific food item. You may speak to a dietician who can design a diet plan for adequate vitamin A intake based on your age and pregnancy trimester.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Why does vitamin A cause congenital disabilities?

A study published in The New England Journal of Medicine states that retinoids (retinol) may pose teratogenic properties. A teratogenic substance acts on the embryo and leads to its abnormal development. These teratogenic effects of retinoids (not carotenoids) result in congenital disabilities in a developing fetus (5) (6).

2. Are vitamin A skin creams safe to use during pregnancy?

The role of vitamin A in maintaining skin integrity has made it a crucial ingredient in many skin care products. Although the rate of absorption into the skin is low, you may still avoid them to be on the safe side. Physicians usually prescribe creams devoid of vitamin A or retinol derivatives during pregnancy (7).

3. Which vitamins should you avoid when pregnant?

You should avoid taking multivitamins with vitamin A and exclusive vitamin A supplements during pregnancy unless directed otherwise by your doctor (8).

A balanced and healthy diet can usually meet your daily requirements of vitamin A in pregnancy. The body always has a store of vitamin A. Consult a physician for a checkup before conception. If you have low levels of vitamin A in your body, your healthcare provider may prescribe a supplementation plan to improve vitamin A levels for a healthy pregnancy.

Infographic: Why To Include Vitamin A In Pregnancy Diet?

From eggs, lean meat, and dairy products to fresh fruits and vegetables, various dietary sources of vitamin A are recommended for pregnant women. However, at the same time, its overconsumption can be harmful as well. So, if you’re curious why pregnant women need vitamin A, check out our infographic below to know in detail.

importance of vitamin a during pregnancy (infographic)

Illustration: Momjunction Design Team

Key Pointers

  • Vitamin A supports fetal bone health and boosts maternal immunity and tissue repair.
  • Good sources of vitamin A include liver, sweet potatoes, carrots, spinach, pumpkin, and fish.
  • Pregnant women should aim to consume about 770 micrograms of vitamin A daily.
  • Vitamin A supplements should only be taken when prescribed by a doctor during pregnancy.
  • Excessive intake of vitamin A (more than 4500 micrograms) can lead to toxicities and fetal malformation, especially if taken in early pregnancy.
Vitamin A During Pregnancy_illustration

Image: Dalle E/MomJunction Design Team

References

MomJunction's articles are written after analyzing the research works of expert authors and institutions. Our references consist of resources established by authorities in their respective fields. You can learn more about the authenticity of the information we present in our editorial policy.
  1. Vitamin A.
    https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/vitamin-a/
  2. Vitamin A And Pregnancy: A Narrative Review
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6470929/
  3. Vitamin A.
    https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminA-HealthProfessional/
  4. Vitamin A Toxicity And Birth Defects.
    https://www.jandonline.org/article/S0002-8223(97)00119-3/fulltext
  5. RetinoidsAs Teratogens.
    https://embryo.asu.edu/pages/retinoids-teratogens
  6. Teratogenicity Of High Vitamin A Intake.
    https://www.nejm.org/doi/10.1056/NEJM199511233332101?url_ver=Z39.88-2003&rfr_id=ori:rid:crossref.org&rfr_dat=cr_pub%20%200www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov
  7. Safety Of Skin Care Products During Pregnancy
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3114665/
  8. Vitamins and supplements in pregnancy.
    https://www.nhs.uk/start-for-life/pregnancy/vitamins-and-supplements-in-pregnancy/
  9. Sabina Bastos Maia, et al.; (2019); Vitamin A and Pregnancy: A Narrative Review.
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6470929/#:~:text=Vitamin%20A%20is%20important%20for
  10. Vitamin A supplementation during pregnancy for maternal and newborn health outcomes.
    https://www.cochrane.org/CD008666/PREG_vitamin-supplementation-during-pregnancy-maternal-and-newborn-health-outcomes
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Dr. Ben Abbes Taarji Hicham is a practicing obstetrician and gynecologist with around 20 years of experience in the field. Having worked in various Moroccan hospitals, he currently runs a private practice. Dr. Hicham specializes in rejuvenation and cosmetic gynecology, medically assisted reproduction, breast and gynecological cancers, HPV diseases, hysteroscopy and laparoscopy, and hormonal disorders.

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Sindusha MS
Sindusha MSMSc (Food & Nutrition)
Sindusha is a clinical nutritionist with over two years of experience in diverse fields of nutrition. She did her Masters in Food Science and Nutrition from Avinashilingam Institute for Home Science and Higher Education for Women and has qualified UGC-NET.

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Swati Patwal
Swati PatwalM.Sc. (Food & Nutrition), MBA
Swati Patwal is a clinical nutritionist, a Certified Diabetes Educator (CDE) and a toddler mom with more than a decade of experience in diverse fields of nutrition. She started her career as a CSR project coordinator for a healthy eating and active lifestyle project catering to school children.

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Aneesha holds a Bachelor's degree in Biotechnology from USTM, Meghalaya and Master’s degree in Applied Microbiology from VIT, Vellore. With two years of experience, she has worked on different research projects in the field of Food Sciences.

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