Vitamin A In Pregnancy: Why Is It Important And What Are Its Vital 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, it’s excess intake may increase the risk of congenital malformations. Read on to know the importance of vitamin A in pregnancy and the right amount to consume.

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 esters directly absorbed in the body.
  • Provitamin A carotenoids(from plant sources): It includes beta-carotene 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.

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  • Helps in postpartum tissue repair
  • Maintains normal vision
  • Strengthens immune function
  • 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 formation of epithelial tissue

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-cryptoxanthin

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

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. 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.

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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.

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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 contains no of few vitamin A units
  • Include vitamin A-rich 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.

References:

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Sindusha MS

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. She interned as a quality control analyst and as a dietitian during her graduation. She was a part of several...
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Dr. Ben Abbes Taarji Hicham

Dr. Ben Abbes Taarji Hicham is a practicing obstetrician and gynecologist with over 20 years of experience. 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.