Supplements – advice for pregnant and breastfeeding women

Information from National Food Agency, Sweden

Pregnant and breastfeeding women should be extra careful with supplements, herbal products, natural medicine and traditional plant-based drugs. It’s often unclear whether these products are harmful for the foetus or child.

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Supplements – advice for pregnant and breastfeeding women
Photo: Preggers

Therefore, do not take such products without first consulting with your midwife or nurse at the paediatric medical centre.

Some products have been proven unsuitable for pregnant and breastfeeding women, while others often lack information regarding any side effects during pregnancy and breastfeeding.

Foetuses and small children are more sensitive than adults

The foetus and small child are likely much more sensitive to different substances than yourself. The packaging leaflet and the package contain information about the suitability of herbal remedies and traditional herbal-based medicines. Supplements generally lack such information, partly due to the lack of knowledge about risks associated with the use by pregnant and breastfeeding women.

Some supplements containing herbs may be highly concentrated and contain large quantities of substances unsafe for pregnant and breastfeeding women. In many cases, it’s unknown whether such products are harmful for the foetus or child.

Always follow the recommended dosage

Taking well-known and tested products, such as vitamins, minerals and traceable substances, is not the same as taking unknown products. It is still important, however, to follow the recommended dosage even for well-known products – and never to overdose.

As an example, vitamin A is necessary for both mother and foetus, but high doses can be harmful. If you are pregnant and take multivitamins, you should make sure the vitamin A content is no higher than 1 milligram per daily dose.

Carefully read the contents and only take products clearly specifying the vitamin and minerals content. Keep in mind that the total dose may be too high if you take several supplements.

Ginseng, algae products and calabash

Pregnant and breastfeeding women should avoid ginseng products altogether, as these may affect the oestrogen levels in the body. Also, be extra careful with algae products containing high levels of iodine, as overdosing may be harmful. The iodine content can differ significantly from product to product, depending on which type of algae they are made from. Calabash chalk is used to treat nausea in pregnant women in West Africa. It may contain high levels of lead and is therefore directly inappropriate for pregnant women. Calabash chalk is also sold under the names La Craie, Argile Nzu, Mabele and Calabar stone.

Swedish Food Agency

Reviewed by Swedish Food Agency