Get the scoop on why vitamin A can be both beneficial and harmful for pregnancy.

When is too much…too much? Get the scoop on why vitamin A can be both beneficial and harmful for pregnancy.


Pregnancy is a time of building, multiplying, and growth within a woman’s body. For cells to grow and multiply, your body and your baby require the support of vitamin A.

In addition to supporting growth, this vitamin serves as an antioxidant. As an antioxidant it helps protect your cells from damaging factors such as pollution, UV rays, and emotional stress.

If vitamin A is so important, why are women constantly warned about its dangers?

Because certain types, in high amounts really can be dangerous.

Vitamin A gets a bad rap during pregnancy because toxic levels may lead to birth defects. Yes, too much of it, especially from supplements, can be dangerous. But you still need it, your baby still needs it, and there’s a really good chance you’re not getting enough of it.

While too much vitamin A can have a negative health impact, so can having too little. Not getting enough vitamin A can weaken your immune system, causing hyperkeratosis (which you may know as chicken skin), and lead to night blindness.

26% of pregnant women don’t get enough vitamin A from their daily diet, and non-pregnant women aren’t doing any better. In fact, 48% of non-pregnant women aren’t meeting their needs.

So how much Vitamin A can you have during pregnancy?

The Recommended Dietary Allowance during pregnancy is 770 mcg per day, which you can get from both supplements or food sources.

Studies have shown that large doses of synthetic or preformed vitamin A in supplements can be dangerous and not only cause harm to you, but also your baby. As a teratogen, preformed vitamin A has been linked to birth defects and must be limited at any time, pregnant or not.

In supplements, vitamin A is usually reported in IU (international units) on its labels. If all the vitamin A is from beta carotene, up to 15,000 IU is allowed, though, not advised.  You probably won’t find it that high anyway. If your vitamin contains retinyl palmitate or retinyl acetate, there shouldn’t be more than 2,500 IU from these two.

The safest way to obtain this vitamin is from food sources.

Beta-carotene, the type found in fruits and vegetables, is perfectly safe, even in high amounts. However, it is possible to get too much when it’s from animal sources, although you probably don’t need to worry too much about that. It’s highly unlikely for most people following the standard American diet to get too much vitamin A.

It’s also important to realize that most research about vitamin A toxicity isn’t about vitamin A from food sources. Most toxicity reports come from supplemental vitamin A, especially from preformed (retinol and retinyl) forms. That’s one more reason to focus on getting your nutrients from real food instead of supplements.

Here are 10 Vitamin A-rich food sources to consider in your diet:

  1. Liver (just make sure not to overdo it.)
  2. Sweet Potato
  3. Pumpkin
  4. Butternut Squash
  5. Carrots
  6. Spinach
  7. Collard Greens
  8. Kale
  9. Dried Apricots
  10. Mustard Greens

Here are some ways to squeeze more of this vitamin into your day:

  • Add ground liver to your ground meat used for hamburgers, tacos, or spaghetti sauce.
  • Opt for mashed sweet potatoes in place of mashed white potatoes as a side dish for dinner.
  • Grab a bowl of pumpkin soup for lunch.
  • Add butternut squash to your favorite pasta sauce recipe.
  • Sprinkle shredded carrots on a salad, on scrambled eggs, or on a sandwich.
  • Choose spinach instead of iceberg lettuce in salads or on sandwiches.
  • Use a collard green leaf in place of a tortilla or wrap when making wraps for lunch.
  • Rip up kale leaves and add them to an omelet.
  • Make your own tasty, healthy, and easy trail mix by combining dried apricots, coconut flakes, and dark chocolate.
  • Blend mustard greens into your favorite smoothie recipe.

Add these and other vitamin A-rich foods to your daily diet to meet your daily needs for a strong immune system, healthy skin, and a healthy pregnancy.

Adapted from the original article.

Kendra Tolbert, MS, RDN, CDN, CLC is a registered dietitian nutritionist, certified lactation counselor, and certified aromatherapist based in Alexandria, VA. Through her private practice, she helps women and couples prepare for pregnancy and enjoy healthier, happier pregnancies. Learn more about Kendra at Live Fertile.

  1. Okay so found vitamin A at 6% on my can of chefboyardee spaghetti and meatballs is that find to eat or no? I eat like two cans a day sometimes. Being pregnant makes me crave them!

    1. Hi Priscilla. Thanks for your question. It’s really hard to say if the occasional cans of Chef Boyardee are or are not the best choice for you during your pregnancy without taking a look at the other foods you’re eating and supplements you’re taking. It’s what you eat the most, most of the time that matters the most.

      I’d recommend reaching out to a local dietitian to help you take a look at your overall eating habits. Check with your obgyn, midwife, or NP. They should be able to refer you to someone who specializes in prenatal nutrition in your city. Hope that helps!

    2. Why do you eat processed garbage when you’re pregnant? Do you want to give your kid autism? Because this is how you give your kid autism. I would only eat unproccesed raw pastured animal foods out of love for my baby if I were a pregnant woman.

  2. The only thing that makes sense about this article is to eat liver. You are delusional if you think our body can properly convert beta-carotene from plants. Cows can do it because they have 4 stomachs that ferment the plants. essentially the bacteria in the cow get all the time and conditions to convert it. There is no way our digestive track can do even 5% of the work of a cow, and even then cows are grazing literally 10 hours per day, and don’t like to be disturbed when they are doing so. Would you like to be like a cow or simply eat the cows liver? Up to you.