How safe is vitamin A while you’re pregnant?

I was surprised at how complicated this one got.

Turns out that there are two kinds of vitamin A: carotenoids (including beta-carotene) which is found in fruits and vegetables and is converted into vitamin A by your body; and preformed, (retinoid form) that is found in meats and fortified foods – which essentially means it’s already been converted by something else.

Vitamin A keeps our eyes, skin and immune system healthy and plays a key role in maintaining healthy vision.

You need it.

Okay, now here’s where it gets tricky. Too much preformed vitamin A can cause birth defects such as malformations of the head and face, the central nervous system, the thymus, and the heart. Oh, okay, great.

The current recommended daily allowance for adult or pregnant women seems to be around 2,700 IU.


So what does that mean for you? Well, it looks like the biggest no-no is liver. Now, I can personally think of a thousand reasons not to eat liver but you may really enjoy it. I was once at a party and my friend had to lean in to tell me something and I said, “Cheryl, why in the hell does your breath smell like cat food?” Turns out she was eating paté (or Fancy Feast).

That said, it looks like not all liver is created equal. Just to give you an idea, 1 oz of goose liver (which I’m going to guess is about the size of four dice if it’s the same weight as cheese) is 933 IUs, beef liver is around 8881 IUs, and chicken liver is 4026 IUs. Most paté is made from goose liver so it looks like a couple of crackers will still be under your limit. Plus, when you google the facts on paté and pregnancy, most sites get their knickers in a knot over the listeria danger (similar to cold cuts) and not the vitamin A which usually indicates you’d have to constantly exceed your daily limit to do any damage.

Oh, and just so you know, eating polar bear liver will kill you (pregnant or not) so steer clear of that tonight.

Most other things like milk, salmon and eggs really don’t contain enough vitamin A to get scary. It looks like you’d have to eat around 40 eggs a day (Cool Hand Luke style) to exceed your recommended intake.

Face Creams:

No studies have shown that face creams containing retinoids, such as Retin-A, Retinol, etc., are harmful during pregnancy but most sites get twitchy about it and advise that you try to avoid it.

On the other hand, Isotretinoin (Accutane, Amnesteem, Claravis, Sotretwhich) which is man-made form of vitamin A acne medication, and Tazorac have been classed as an Pregnancy Category X by the FDA. Which is code for stay-the-hell-away-from-it. So don’t touch it with a ten foot pole if you are pregnant or thinking about becoming pregnant. It’s badass.


As for plant based, beta-carotene vitamin A, such as sweet potatoes, pumpkins, carrots, cooked spinach, butternut squash, dried apricots, peppers, cantaloupe, etc.; go for it. Your body has to convert the beta-carotene to vitamin A so it regulates how much it needs then ditches the rest.

In short: Carrots: Yes. Liver, Accutane and Fancy Feast: No.

search: pregnancy vitamin A, eating liver pregnant, beta-carotene pregnancy, vitamin A cream pregnancy

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  • Its also worth noting that some people may have a hard time converting beta-carotene to vit A (possibly as high as 45% of the adult population; see Dietary sources such as eggs and liver may be essential for some people. For those concerned with the toxicity of eating liver, it’s worth seeking out an organic source, or source outside the industrial food chain (seek out a local small producer).

  • Love the name of your site – my dad’s nickname for me has always been chickabird so I think he is calling me a pregnant chicken now 😛

    I am not a big meat eater but I actually love fois gras strangely enough. I hardly ever eat it but the jewish holidays are coming up and my aunt makes the best chicken liver pate and I am wrestling as to whether or not to eat it.

    I hope that as one person commented, that the studies done were on synthetic vitamin a but who knows.. I usually eat a cup on the liver pate with bread, no joke! Perhaps I should have less given i am preggers just to be safe!

  • Thank you for the clear and straight forward write up- Understanding what to eat in pregnancy is a lot harder than I imagined.

  • Where do you fall on other topical acne treatments like salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide? I’ve read conflicting things…

    • Generally speaking, the party line seems to be benzoyl peroxide is fine and salicylic acid is cool with concentrations of 2% and under. Some doctors will say more is fine, but I’m just basing that on an overall consensus.

  • Liver is NOT good for you. The Liver is used to filter and STORE toxins in the body. Any time you eat liver you are eating the TOXIN STORAGE ORGAN of the animal and are thus consuming the accumulated toxins that were filtered out of the animals body. Why any one would continue to eat Liver when it is NOT good for you at ANY stage of life is beyond me…

    • You don’t know what you are talking about. The liver processes toxins, it doesn’t store them. The study that led to the hysteria about avoiding preformed vitamin A and hence liver was based on the feeding of huge amounts of synthetic A in isolation. Liver is stuffed full of nutrients and minerals and the vitamin A is in there alongside D and K which all work together. This is just one of those ludicrous myths that keep being peddled.

  • I personally wouldn’t eat liver if a gun was to my head, I was simply worried about eggs. Thank god, they’re ok, I love me some eggs!

  • Retinoids aren't a great idea during pregnancy because they make your skin MUCH more sensitive to the sun.

    They make you much more prone to developing melasma because of it, and it's difficult to fade after delivery.

  • I do understand that you don't want to eat a pound of liver a day but an ounce a day is what I have heard is the recommendation. I would worry about getting too much copper though, before I worried about the vitamin A (from liver, that is). Beef liver is also much higher in Vitamin A than chicken liver. I personally think this is a case of throwing out the baby with the bath water. There is a huge about of nutrition in liver! Just because one nutrient may increase the chance of birth defects when eaten in large amounts every day, doesn't mean you should never eat it at all… right? The studies that may have correlated vitamin a with birth defects appear to have been done with a vitamin a supplement anyway. I'm going to have to look into this more. Thank you for bringing it up.

  • Nope, I thought liver was a good thing too but because it has already been converted by the animal that the liver belonged to (sorry that's gross) you can get too much vitamin A from it. It's the beta-carotene form (plant based) that you can go crazy on.

  • It is my understanding that the concern for too much vitamin is is about synthetic vitamin A. Liver is a very nutritious food and should absolutely be consumed during pregnancy!

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