How Much Vitamin A Is Safe in Pregnancy?

Vitamin A supports the development of your unborn baby's lungs, heart, eyes, kidneys and bones, as well as the respiratory, circulatory and central nervous system. Vitamin A also has an essential role in resisting and fighting infections and metabolizing fat. Although getting enough of this vitamin during pregnant is crucial, it is possible to get too much. Too much vitamin A can cause serious risk to your unborn baby, including birth defects. Talk to your doctor to determine how much vitamin A is appropriate for your specific situation.

pregnant woman with heart on stomach (Image: Yarruta/iStock/Getty Images)

Types of Vitamin A

Two types of vitamin A exist. Preformed vitamin A, sometimes called retinol or retinoids, are found in animal products, such as liver, milk and eggs. This type is also found in fortified food products and vitamin supplements, including prenatal vitamins. The other type of vitamin A is called provitamin A carotenoid. Caroteniods that can be converted to vitamin A in the body include beta-carotene, alpha-carotene and beta-cryptoxanthin. Beta-carotene is generally the preferred carotenoid for vitamin A consumption, because it is converted to vitamin A more efficiently than the other caroteniods. Caroteniods are found in darkly colored fruits and vegetables, including carrots, cantaloupes, spinach, kale and sweet potatoes.

Units of Measurement

The standard measurement for vitamin A is retinol activity equivalents, or RAE. This is based on the source as well as the potency. One microgram, abbreviated ug or mcg, of retinol is the equivalent of 1 microgram RAE. It takes 12 micrograms of beta-carotene or 24 micrograms of alpha-carotene to equal 1 microgram RAE. Many prenatal or multivitamin supplements display vitamin A in international units. One microgram RAE equals 3.3 international units.

Recommended Amount

Pregnant women who are 18 years old or younger should get 750 micrograms RAE of vitamin A a day. This is approximately 2,500 international units. Pregnant women who are 19 years old or older should get 770 microgram RAE of vitamin A a day. This is approximately 2.5.65 international units. This is the total amount of vitamin A you should consume each day, through both diet and supplements.

Maximum Amount

While you can consume as many carotenoids as you want through fruits and vegetables, getting too much preformed vitamin A can increase the chances that your baby will be born with a birth defect. It also can cause liver toxicity. Pregnant women 18 years old and younger should not consume more than 2,800 microgram RAE a day. This equals about 9,240 international units. Pregnant women 19 years old or older should not consume more than 3,000 microgram RAE a day. This is 10,000 international units. Keep in mind that this is the maximum combined limit, not just the amount you can consume through supplements. Keep track of the total amount of preformed vitamin A you consume through animal products, fortified foods and supplements, and make sure you stay well under this maximum amount limit.

Warning

Synthetic retinoids are often used for acne, skin disorders and psoriasis. For example, the medication isotretinoin, sold under the brand names Accutane or Roaccutane, is a common anti-acne treatment. Doctors typically advise pregnant women to discontinue the use retinoid-based products during pregnancy. Any woman who may become pregnant may be advised not to use these products at all. Talk to your doctor for more information about this issue.

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