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Home > Learn > Nutrition > >What to Know About Vitamin A During Pregnancy

What to Know About Vitamin A During Pregnancy

Nov 27, 23 6 min

By OBGYN Dr. Kenosha Gleaton

Vitamin A is an umbrella term that refers to a handful of fat-soluble retinoids such as retinol. The body also converts some carotenoids (plant pigments like lycopene or beta-carotene) into vitamin A. [1] The body uses vitamin A for reproduction, immune function, growth and development, and more. [1-2] Vitamin A is necessary for a healthy pregnancy, but it’s important to know what the right amount of vitamin A is to avoid negative health outcomes. Let’s talk a bit more about vitamin A during pregnancy. 

Why Do We Need Vitamin A?

Vitamin A plays an important role in many different bodily processes, including reproduction, immune function, vision, organ function, and more. [1-2] Pregnant people specifically need extra vitamin A to aid in fetal growth and tissue maintenance. While generally rare in the United States, Vitamin A deficiency is more common in pregnant and lactating people, as well as premature infants, people with cystic fibrosis, and people with gastrointestinal disorders. [1] If someone is deficient in vitamin A, they may notice symptoms such as vision problems, dry eyes, abnormal lung development, respiratory problems, and an increased risk of infection, anemia, and death. [1-2] 

Foods High in Vitamin A 

There are two different sources of Vitamin A, known as preformed vitamin A and provitamin A carotenoids [1-2]:

  • Preformed vitamin A can be found in foods from animal sources, like fish, dairy products, eggs, and organ meats. Rich sources include beef liver, herring, milk, eggs, cheese, salmon, and tuna. 
  • Provitamin A carotenoids are plant pigments that are turned into vitamin A by your body. These are found in fruits, vegetables, and other plant-based products. Rich sources include sweet potato, spinach, peppers, carrots, and cantaloupe. 

Benefits of Vitamin A

Researchers have found some potential health benefits associated with vitamin A intake. 

Lowered Cancer Risk

Some research suggests that high intake of vitamin A and beta-carotene may lower the risk of certain types of cancer. [1] However, other studies also found that current or former smokers may have an increased risk of cancer when taking high doses of beta-carotene. [1] 

Reduced Risk of Retinal Diseases 

Vitamin A is essential for our vision. Studies have found that low levels of vitamin A may lead to visual dysfunction, including several retinal diseases. [1-2] One example of this is xerophthalmia, a condition in which someone is unable to see in low light. Researchers have also noted a substantial decreased risk of age-related macular degeneration when supplementing with certain carotenoids. [1,3] 

Improved Iron Metabolism

Iron is another important nutrient that is necessary for a healthy pregnancy. When someone doesn’t have enough iron, they may develop anemia, meaning their blood is unable to transport oxygen to tissues effectively. This can lead to potentially dangerous symptoms during pregnancy. Research shows that vitamin A supplementation during pregnancy increases hemoglobin concentrations and reduces the occurrence of anemia by supporting iron metabolism. [4] Learn more about iron deficiency in pregnancy. 

Healthy Fetal Development

As mentioned already, vitamin A plays an important role in reproductive health and growth and development. It’s important to note that both high and low amounts of vitamin A have been linked to negative fetal outcomes, such as abnormal lung development, birth defects, and more. [1,2,5] This is why taking the recommended amount of vitamin A is essential for a healthy pregnancy. 

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How Much Is Too Much Vitamin A During Pregnancy? 

It’s true that very high levels of vitamin A have been linked to severe birth defects, including malformations of the eye, skull, lungs, and heart. [1,5] It’s recommended that those pregnant or lactating avoid consuming 3,000 mcg retinol activity equivalents (RAE) or (10,000 international units (IUs) of vitamin A or more per day. [1,5] Symptoms of vitamin A toxicity include severe headache, vision problems, nausea, dizziness, sore muscles, and lack of coordination. [1] 

Recommended Vitamin A Dose During Pregnancy

There is a bit of a delicate balance when consuming vitamin A during pregnancy, as both deficiency and toxicity can lead to damaging health effects. It’s recommended that pregnant individuals consume about 750-770 mcg RAE per day, and those lactating consume around 1,200-1,300 mcg RAE per day. [1] Fortunately, many people in the United States are not at risk of a vitamin A deficiency and consume adequate amounts through their diet as well as any multi or prenatal vitamins. [1] You should speak to your provider if you’re concerned or have questions about your vitamin A intake. 

Vitamin A Interactions

It’s also important to know that certain supplements or medications can interact with Vitamin A. You should always speak to your healthcare provider about any and all supplements or medicines you’re taking or thinking of taking. Research shows that orlistat, acitretin, and bexarotene may all interfere with Vitamin A, potentially decreasing or increasing the absorption of the nutrient. [1-2] 

Is Topical Retinol Safe During Pregnancy?

Retinol is often found in topical products marketed for anti-aging or acne treatment. Topical retinol products can be found in many forms, including creams, gels, lotions, serums, and more. [6] When used on the skin, retinol aids in exfoliating, collagen production, and unclogging pores. Many people have found that retinol is useful in reducing acne, scarring, dark spots, etc. [6] If you’re someone who has experienced pregnancy acne, melasma, stretch marks, or other changes to your skin during pregnancy, you may be interested in using products like retinol for your skin. Unfortunately, most research suggests that topical retinol products are not safe for use while pregnant as they may lead to birth defects. [6-7] If you are looking for pregnancy-safe skin care products, consider Natalist belly oil and cooling cream. 

Learn about retinol use while breastfeeding. 

Support Your Pregnancy Nutrition

Nutrition can be complicated for everyone, especially when trying to conceive, pregnant, or breastfeeding. We know that you want the best for yourself and your baby, which is why Natalist Prenatal Daily Packets are evidence-backed, vegan, gluten-free, and free from artificial coloring, preservatives, flavoring, and more. Natalist prenatals include a safe amount of Vitamin A: 2,333 IU or 700 mcg RAE, so fetal development is supported without compromising your nutrition or fetal outcomes. Natalist is proud to offer many other pregnancy supplements and self-care products as well- because you deserve the best. 



References:

  1. Vitamin A and Carotenoids Fact Sheet for Health Professionals. National Institutes of Health (NIH) Office of Dietary Supplements (ODS) . June 2022. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminA-HealthProfessional/
  2. McEldrew EP, Lopez MJ, Milstein H. Vitamin A. [Updated 2023 Jul 10]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2023 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK482362/
  3. Khoo HE, Ng HS, Yap WS, Goh HJH, Yim HS. Nutrients for Prevention of Macular Degeneration and Eye-Related Diseases. Antioxidants (Basel). 2019;8(4):85. Published 2019 Apr 2. doi:10.3390/antiox8040085
  4. Bastos Maia S, Rolland Souza AS, Costa Caminha MF, et al. Vitamin A and Pregnancy: A Narrative Review. Nutrients. 2019;11(3):681. Published 2019 Mar 22. doi:10.3390/nu11030681
  5. Reducing Risks of Birth Defects. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. FAQ 146. July 2021. https://www.acog.org/womens-health/faqs/reducing-risks-of-birth-defects
  6. Retinol. Cleveland Clinic. June 2022. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/treatments/23293-retinol
  7. Bozzo P, Chua-Gocheco A, Einarson A. Safety of skin care products during pregnancy. Can Fam Physician. 2011;57(6):665-667.
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