Demystifying the Prenatal Vitamin
Ok, so you know you want to make a baby. Congrats! Now what? Sometimes all of the information can feel overwhelming. Trust me. I am right there with you. First and foremost, breathe. You've got this!
Now let me take one thing off your plate and help you demystify the prenatal vitamin.
You won't hear us recommend a ton of supplements, but there are absolutely times when (no matter how many green smoothies you drink) we can all use a little help. Trying to conceive (TTC) and during pregnancy are a few of them.
Yes, you can absolutely get the majority of important nutrients from your diet. This takes dedication to eating a variety of whole foods and colors, including plenty of fruits, veggies, nuts/seeds, lean proteins, whole grains and healthy fats! If you really want to dive in and fine-tune your diet to optimize fertility, you've come to the right place. Check out our Fuel Your Fertility Online Program which includes two full-weeks of meals + prep instructions, all focusing on nutrient-dense foods to get your body ready to make a baby. Vada-voom!
Even then, we still recommend getting on a trusty prenatal vitamin regimen to ensure you are getting the extra goodies your body needs to grow another human. You heard me - grow another human! Woah. Crazy. But yes, that takes a lot of work and our bodies can use some extra love and micronutrients while we do it. In fact, we recommend starting on a prenatal vitamin 3-6 months prior to TTC if you are planning ahead.
I've listed the key nutrients to look for in your prenatal supplement below. I will try to keep this as brief and exciting as possible. I'll also give my top two prenatal supplement recommendations at the bottom of this post (*note: we have no brand affiliation with either of the products - I truly recommend these as the best options on the market).
Look for the Methylated form: This might be listed as 5-Methyltetrahydrofolate or 5-MTHF.
As high as 50% of the population may have a variation of the MTHFR gene mutation - long story short - this prevents you from metabolizing folic acid (the synthetic supplement form of folate). The methylated form has higher bioavailability, meaning you get what you need and so does baby, regardless of your genetic disposition.
If you are only going to take one vitamin prior to pregnancy, folate is the one you will want to take. It is well researched and conclusive that folate is important in preventing neural tube defects.
To aid healthy brain and spinal cord development, take at least 400 mcg of methylated folate daily 1-month prior to conceiving, making sure to increase this to at least 600-800 mcg during pregnancy. The prenatal vitamins I recommend each have 1000 mcg of 5-MTHF and are sufficient both prior to conceiving and throughout pregnancy.
During pregnancy, your blood volume is going to increase a lot (plasma by 40-50%, red blood cell mass by 20-30%) - this means you need more iron.
Look for at least 27 mg in the form of Iron Bisglycinate for more effective absorption and decreased digestive upset associated with other forms of supplemental iron.
Vitamin C increases the absorption of iron. Both of the prenatal vitamins I recommend include Vitamin C.
Aim for 1000 mg calcium per day, but not from your prenatal vitamin because calcium interferes with iron absorption.
Avoid foods high in calcium at the time of day that you take your prenatal vitamin, but make sure to incorporate calcium containing foods in your other meals and snacks.
The top calcium-rich food sources we recommend are: dark leafy greens and yogurt or kefir from grass-fed cows (next best is organic - the quality of source is particularly important if you are consuming full-fat or low-fat dairy, not as much in non-fat dairy products)
Both of the prenatal vitamins I recommend have calcium in limited amounts so as not to interfere with absorbing the iron contained in the supplement.
Most people do not get their daily requirement of Vitamin D and therefore we recommend that everyone take at least 1000 IU daily, regardless of pregnancy status.
Look for it in the form of cholecalciferol (D3) which most health care professionals agree is more effective than the ergocalciferol (D2) form.
Make sure your prenatal vitamin contains 11 mg of Zinc.
Zinc is critical for egg production and hormone regulation in women, but zinc is also found to boost sperm production in men.
Have fun with this while you are TTC and go out for oyster dates! Oysters have higher levels of zinc per serving than any other food.
Once you think you might be pregnant, nix the raw oysters from your diet and stick to your prenatal supplement.
This Omega-3 fatty acid is critically important for infant brain development.
Ensure your prenatal regimen has at least 200 mg of DHA, or take an additional DHA supplement on top of your prenatal.
Eating fatty fish, like salmon or tuna, 2-3 times per week will provide the dietary DHA you need. However, during pregnancy there is cause for concern regarding toxic mercury levels in fish. A high quality supplement will allow you to reap the benefits of DHA without causing unintended harm.
Other important nutrients to look for in your prenatal
If you want the full scoop on all the important nutrients, jump into our Fuel Your Fertility Online Program where we go in depth on each micronutrient that is essential when trying to conceive + give you a two week plan to focus on food first, supplementation second.
This will have to be a topic for another post, but for several reasons I definitely recommend taking a high quality probiotic every day while trying to conceive and throughout pregnancy. Learn all about the importance of probiotics in our Fuel Your Fertility Online Program.
drumroll for my top recommendations...
I personally take the Zahler Prenatal + DHA. I love that the DHA is included and I only have to take 2 capsules per day to get everything I need.
Thorne is another reliable brand with a great product. The Basic Prenatal does not include DHA so if you choose this route, I recommend also taking 1 Super EPA capsule per day. The Basic Prenatal requires 3 capsules to get everything you need.
I hope this gives you some background education on the why + actionable advice on what to buy. If you want more specific recommendations geared towards your unique needs, please get in touch with us to set up a free 15-minute consult to see if a session or two with us might be a good fit!