Every mother wants to have a healthy pregnancy. To do so, taking vitamins — usually of the prenatal variety — is part of the gig. Vitamin C is a popular pick because of its immune-boosting reputation, but too much may lead to problems in both you and your baby, especially in early pregnancy.
When used in large quantities, vitamin C can even result in the loss of your fetus. "Historically, vitamin C was used in excessive amounts as an abortifacient," notes Monica McHenry Svets, MD, an ob-gyn at Cleveland Clinic. In studies relating to the influence of vitamin C on preeclampsia risk, a secondary outcome of increased risk for preterm premature rupture of the membranes (when the sac or amniotic membrane surrounding your baby breaks before 37 weeks of pregnancy) was found, she adds.
The American Pregnancy Association suggests 80 to 85 milligrams of vitamin C daily, though if you're breastfeeding, you should strive for 120 mg a day. The negative effects of vitamin C likely occur at dosages above 2,000 milligrams, according to the Mayo Clinic. Still, safe dosage recommendations may vary, and it's smart to consult with a physician about what's best for you.
You can manage your intake by eating plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables for their vitamin C content, rather than taking supplements to meet your nutritional needs. All fruits and vegetables contain some amount of C, but the ones with the highest concentrations are cantaloupe, oranges, grapefruits, kiwi, mangoes, broccoli, peppers, sweet potatoes and spinach.
Vitamin C and Iron
Getting the right amount of vitamin C in your diet can help to enhance the absorption of iron, according to the Mayo Clinic. During pregnancy, your body needs double the normal amount of iron in order to make enough blood to supply oxygen to your growing baby. Getting the right amount of iron can prove difficult if you're a vegetarian, since many of the best sources come from animal products such as red meat, liver and poultry.
If your diet includes only plant sources of iron (beans, nuts and whole grains), that's when it becomes particularly important to pair your eats with foods high in vitamin C. Ones to try: Orange juice, strawberries and tomato juice.
Preeclampsia is a serious complication during pregnancy that's characterized by high blood pressure and possible organ damage to the kidneys and liver, according to the Mayo Clinic. On a scary note, it can cause growth restriction in your baby and may lead to stroke or heart attack for you. The condition must be closely monitored by your health-care provider, as it can crop up unexpectedly around the 20th week of pregnancy in women whose blood pressure had been otherwise normal.
Turning to vitamin C for help with preeclampsia isn't recommended. "There is definitely no benefit to using vitamin C to prevent or treat preeclampsia and, as mentioned above, taking too much can lead to a potential increased risk for weakening of the fetal membranes and possibly preterm delivery," warns Dr. Svets.
A September 2015 review published in Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews confirms this. Experts looked at 29 trials involving more than 24,000 women and found that supplementing with vitamin C — either alone or with other nutrients (usually vitamin E) — didn't improve health outcomes for pregnant women and their babies, including stillbirth, preterm birth, preeclampsia or low birthweight babies.
If you're diagnosed with preeclampsia, you'll need more prenatal visits with your doctor than other women, as well as blood tests, ultrasounds and non-stress tests. Medication may be recommended to lower blood pressure and some women are put on bed rest to mitigate this condition. Preeclampsia typically resolves at the baby's birth, according to Mayo Clinic.
As noted, too much vitamin C may rupture the membranes too soon, which could lead to a miscarriage. While some women may attempt to use the vitamin as a home remedy for abortion, there is much controversy surrounding this concept. Your best bet? Eat a healthy diet during pregnancy with lots of fresh fruit, vegetables, lean protein and low-fat dairy — and stick to the amount of vitamin C found in your prenatal vitamin. The C found in this special supplement is plenty for nearly all pregnant women, says Dr. Svets.
- American Pregnancy Association: "Essential Nutrients & Vitamins for Pregnancy"
- Monica McHenry Svets, MD, ob/gyn, Cleveland Clinic
- Mayo Clinic: "Is it possible to take too much vitamin C?"
- Mayo Clinic: "Pregnancy diet: Focus on these essential nutrients"
- Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews: "Vitamin C supplementation in pregnancy"
- Mayo Clinic: "Preeclampsia"