A Guide to Pre Pregnancy Vitamins and Supplements
If you are trying to get pregnant, there are a few things you can do in advance to promote better health and prepare your body for a future pregnancy.
One of these things is to take pre pregnancy vitamins or prenatal supplement in addition to your regular dietary intake.
Pre-pregnancy vitamins and supplements are the same nutrients that you would take during your pregnancy. Taking them before can encourage certain functions in your body and help to facilitate the process.
You may already be familiar with the idea of taking prenatal supplements but what you may not know is that it is never too early to get started!
Note that these supplements should only be taken under doctor supervision and in conjunction with healthy lifestyle improvements like eating a balanced diet, drinking plenty of water, performing moderate exercise, and quitting smoking or other harmful behaviours.
To better support you in your efforts to fall pregnant, we’ve developed this guide to pre-pregnancy vitamins and supplements.
What are pre-pregnancy vitamins and why should you take them?
Pre-pregnancy vitamins increase the body’s health before a woman gets pregnant and are the same vitamins that women are encouraged to take upon becoming pregnant (prenatal supplements). Doctors recommend that you start taking these vitamin supplements even if you aren’t pregnant yet to support certain vital functions in the body that promote healthy baby growth.
The prenatal vitamin is usually considered to be a one-a-day supplement that also contains 400 micrograms (mcg) of folic acid. Folic acid, otherwise known as the B9 vitamin, folacin, and folate, can help to prevent neural tube defect (NTD) during the first few weeks of pregnancy. NTDs are defects in the brain, spine, or spinal cord of a fetus.
These supplements promote DNA growth and tissue formation in the mother’s body, so these processes will already be underway once conception occurs. Getting enough folic acid into the body before pregnancy will not eliminate pregnancy complications, but they will reduce their likelihood.
What are the most important pre-pregnancy vitamins?
A pre-pregnancy vitamin that contains folic acid, vitamin B9, or folacin is the most important vitamin that a woman can take when trying to get pregnant.
Folic acid can be taken before conception up to the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. Depending on your doctor’s recommendation, some studies suggest that a higher dose of 4,000 micrograms (mcg) can be taken at least one month before conception and through the first trimester.
Folic acid naturally occurs in foods like green leafy vegetables, nuts, beans, citrus fruits, and in foods fortified with folic acid. But, taking a folic acid supplement will ensure that the mother is getting enough of this essential nutrient for healthy baby growth.
What to look for in pre-pregnancy vitamins?
Pre-pregnancy vitamins should also include the essential nutrients iron, iodine, calcium, vitamin B6, vitamin B3, vitamin B12, and vitamin D3 and D, especially if you are normally low on any of these minerals.
Look for a pre-pregnancy supplement with the following:
- 400 micrograms (mcg) of folic acid.
- 400 IU of vitamin D.
- 200 to 300 milligrams (mg) of calcium.
- 70 mg of vitamin C.
- 3 mg of thiamine.
- 2 mg of riboflavin.
- 20 mg of niacin.
- 6 mcg of vitamin B12.
- 10 mg of vitamin E.
- 15 mg of zinc.
- 17 mg of iron.
- 150 micrograms of iodine
Iron and iodine are essential nutrients that should be supplemented during pre-pregnancy. An iron supplement should also be taken to help with blood function and oxygen transport, and iodine will help a woman’s thyroid to function normally during the pregnancy:
- If born with iron deficiency, a baby can experience stunted physical growth, deafness, or severe mental disability.
- If extremely low in iodine, it can lead to miscarriage and stillbirth. Iodine is produced naturally in the body and can also be found in dairy products and fish. However, not many people realise that they are allergic to iodine (the topical kind or the kind used in surgical procedures), so be careful when supplementing with iodine and check with your doctor before use.
Calcium is another essential nutrient for women who are trying to get pregnant. A calcium supplement will support the mother’s bone density so that the baby has a healthy supply of calcium for bone growth without taking it from the mother.
You’ll also want to take DHA, omega-3 fatty acids, or fish oil, which will support your baby’s health once you get pregnant. Take at least 200 mg of DHA a day in the period when you are trying to get pregnant.
Pre-pregnancy vitamins and supplements for fertility
In general, pre-pregnancy vitamins are encouraged in the expectation that you will conceive. These supplements promote an environment for tissue growth and cell regeneration.
But what if you are trying to conceive and you are experiencing issues with infertility?
Some supplements could be taken that might improve fertility rates, and this includes supplements for men as well. Since many micronutrients can influence fertility, it might be more convenient to take a multivitamin.
Here are supplements that can improve your chances of falling pregnancy:
Both men and women can take selenium as it can improve the quality of semen and reduce the chance of miscarriage.
A 2015 study found that selenium protects cellular membranes and when deficient in this, may cause men to experience decreased semen quality and sperm mobility. A deficiency in women led to gestational complications, including miscarriages and damage to the fetal nervous system.
A deficiency in selenium, zinc, and copper means that it could take longer to get pregnant.
The recommended daily dosage is 55 mcg per day for adults.
Zinc is also a supplement that both men and women can take to improve sperm quality, fertilization, and egg development.
Zinc is not necessarily proven to increase sperm quality as a recent study found that when taken by males, zinc and folic acid did not improve sperm count, rates of live birth, or sperm function.
However, a 2019 study did find women who were deficient in selenium, zinc, and copper experience a long time trying to conceive.
The recommended dosage is 8 mg for women and 11 mg for men.
Myo-inositol, a dense compound of vitamin B supplements, has been found to improve both male and female fertility.
Myo-inositol has long shown promising results for improving female fertility, and more recent studies (2017 and 2020) suggest that Myo-inositol can improve sperm mitochondrial function, which would increase sperm motility.
Myo-inositol is largely effective at improving the insulin resistance qualities of women with gestational diabetes and women who have polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). Myo-inositol can improve ovarian function, and some studies have found that Myo-inositol provides a higher pregnancy rate than metformin.
While more research is needed to support the benefits of coenzyme Q10 for fertility, some studies suggested that it improves the ovarian response during in vitro fertilisation (IVF) and boosts sperm motility in men.
Since your body naturally produces this coenzyme (CoQ10), the supplement would be increasing your body’s production levels. More recent studies are finding that it can improve sperm concentration and ovarian response, as suggested above.
Negative effects of pre-pregnancy supplements
Whenever you take any kind of supplement, there can be negative side effects. While there are common side effects, everybody is different so you will have to be mindful of noticeable changes in your body once you start taking prenatal supplements.
When taking vitamins for pregnancy, you want to be sure that the dietary supplement is approved by the appropriate governing bodies and your general practitioner. Do not take any supplements without speaking to your doctor as they could interact with over the counter medication as well.
While most women who take pre-pregnancy supplements generally have no adverse side effects, some may experience the following:
- Dark stools
- Low appetite
- Upset stomach
If you experience any of these side effects, talk to your doctor immediately. A lot of the time, these side effects might arise due to the method of ingestion. In that instance, your doctor might recommend taking a liquid or gel capsule supplement as opposed to the pill form, for example.
Alahmar, A. T., Calogero, A. E., Sengupta, P., & Dutta, S. (2020). Coenzyme Q10 improves sperm parameters, oxidative stress markers and sperm DNA fragmentation in infertile patients with idiopathic oligoasthenozoospermia. The World Journal of Men’s Health, 38. Retrieved Aug 12, 2020, from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32009311/
Alahmar, A. T. (2019). The impact of two doses of coenzyme Q10 on semen parameters and antioxidant status in men with idiopathic oligoasthenoteratozoospermia. Clinical and experimental reproductive medicine, 46(3), 112. Retrieved Aug 12, 2020, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6736512/
Condorelli, R. A., La Vignera, S., Mongioì, L. M., Vitale, S. G., Laganà, A. S., Cimino, L., & Calogero, A. E. (2017). Myo-inositol as a male fertility molecule: speed them up. Eur Rev Med Pharmacol Sci, 21(2 Suppl), 30-35. Retrieved Aug 12, 2020 from https://www.europeanreview.org/wp/wp-content/uploads/030-035-Myoinositol-and-sperm-motility.pdf
D’anna, R., Di Benedetto, V., Rizzo, P., Raffone, E., Interdonato, M. L., Corrado, F., & Di Benedetto, A. (2012). Myo-inositol may prevent gestational diabetes in PCOS women. Gynecological endocrinology, 28(6), 440-442. Retrieved Aug 12, 2020 from https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.3109/09513590.2011.633665
Gerli, S., Papaleo, E., Ferrari, A., & Di Renzo, G. C. (2007). Randomized, double blind placebo-controlled trial: effects of myo-inositol on ovarian function and metabolic factors in women with PCOS. Eur Rev Med Pharmacol Sci, 11(5), 347-354. Retrieved Aug 12, 2020, from http://www.europeanreview.org/wp/wp-content/uploads/458.pdf
Grieger, J. A., Grzeskowiak, L. E., Wilson, R. L., Bianco-Miotto, T., Leemaqz, S. Y., Jankovic-Karasoulos, T., … & Roberts, C. T. (2019). Maternal selenium, copper and zinc concentrations in early pregnancy, and the association with fertility. Nutrients, 11(7), 1609.Retrieved Aug 12, 2020, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6683068/
Pieczyńska, J., & Grajeta, H. (2015). The role of selenium in human conception and pregnancy. Journal of trace elements in medicine and biology, 29, 31-38. Retrieved Aug 12, 2020, from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25175508/
Vazquez-Levin, M. H., & Verón, G. L. (2020). Myo‐inositol in health and disease: its impact on semen parameters and male fertility. Andrology, 8(2), 277-298. Retrieved Aug 12, 2020, from https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/pdfdirect/10.1111/andr.12718
Watson, K. and Sullivan, D. (2017). Healthline. Zinc Deficiency. Healthline.com. Retrieved Aug 12, 2020, from https://www.healthline.com/health/zinc-deficiency
Xu, Y., Nisenblat, V., Lu, C., Li, R., Qiao, J., Zhen, X., & Wang, S. (2018). Pretreatment with coenzyme Q10 improves ovarian response and embryo quality in low-prognosis young women with decreased ovarian reserve: a randomized controlled trial. Reproductive Biology and Endocrinology, 16(1), 29. Retrieved Aug 12, 2020, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5870379/