Prenatal vitamins are one of the most common supplements that women use at some point during their lifetime. Should these nutrients be used exclusively by women? When should you start taking a prenatal vitamin? Are there some nutrients that are more important than others?

The concept of using a prenatal vitamin is to ensure that your growing baby receives all the nutrients he or she needs to develop and grow into a healthy newborn and that continues into lifelong health.

I would argue that this process starts before conception even occurs. For a healthy embryo to develop, it is ideal to have an egg and sperm meet that are both of high quality. When we see concerns in either the egg or the sperm this can either have a negative impact on the ability for us to conceive or if we do conceive can have a negative impact on the health of our developing baby.

This is the reason I highly encourage both parents to be to begin making changes to optimize their health at least 3-6 months before getting pregnant. These are 2 important points that I find are often overlooked or not spoken about when it is comes to conception. If there are nutrient deficiencies during this preconception time this can impact the health of dad’s-to-be sperm as well as mom’s-to-be egg and uterine lining.

What nutrients are particularly important during this time?

Omega 3 fatty acids play an important role during pregnancy to help with brain development. They also support healthy uterine lining, and cervical mucous production, play a role in sperm development and help to regulate inflammation (which plays a role in implantation and pain). Most people in North America are deficient in omega 3 fatty acids so this is something I often discuss with patients and will either recommend increasing dietary sources of omega 3’s such as eating more fish – salmon, cod, mackerel, sardines and trout are great sources of omega 3 fatty acids. If you are eating 3 servings of these types of fish per week you are likely doing well with your intake. If you aren’t then you likely need to supplement to get your omega 3’s into a good range.

B12 is a nutrient that is very important for genetic replication and for development of the nervous system. It plays a role in both parents to be with a deficiency in men having a negative impact on sperm health and a female deficiency impacting both overall fertility and can be a contributor to pregnancy loss. B12 in either a methylcobalamin or hydroxocobalamin are more easily utilized by the body so make sure to check your label of any supplement you are using to look for one of these formats.

Folic acid this one is very important in early pregnancy as it plays a critical role in the formation of your baby’s neural tube. There is research showing a deficiency of folate can impact both egg and sperm quality. There is around 20% of the population who because of a genetic variant don’t convert synthetic folic acid into its active form called 5-methyletrahydrofolate (or 5-MTHFR for short). If you don’t know your genetic status, I typically will recommend a prenatal for mom-to-be and multivitamin for dad-to-be that contains the active form in it so you don’t have to worry if you are someone who doesn’t convert effectively which can then leave you and your developing baby deficient.

Iron is a very important nutrient for women trying to conceive and during pregnancy.  If you are iron deficient this can be a reason that you don’t conceive as it can impact your ability to ovulate. Iron is most easily absorbed from animal products so often I will find my vegan and vegetarian patients are more prone to deficiency. If you run your blood work and find you are low in iron, then supplementation is generally recommended. During pregnancy your requirement for iron goes up considerably so it is generally recommended to take a prenatal containing iron during pregnancy.

The type of iron consumed in a supplement form though can often be a major deterrent as some forms with cause constipation or nausea – it is the most common reason women stop taking their prenatal vitamin. Iron in a heme or amino acid chelate form such as iron glycinate are more easily absorbed and generally cause less constipation and stomach irritation compared to ferrous fumarate form.

Zinc is a nutrient that is relevant for our dads-to-be as it is involved in sperm development and supports healthy testosterone levels. It also plays a role in immune function, so we want to ensure proper amounts are taken in both parents to be. Zinc, in a citrate or picolinate form, has better absorption rates.

Choline is a nutrient that is also very important for a baby’s brain development and there was a study that found almost 50% of women of childbearing age were deficient. For this reason, I generally will recommend a prenatal vitamin that contains choline and a lot currently do not so make sure you check your label. Eggs are a great food source of choline.

There is a wealth of other nutrients that are important for both egg and sperm health as well as for developing babies.  The above list gives you a general idea of where to start.

If you have questions about your nutrient status speak to your health professional or naturopathic doctor about testing options and ways to optimize your health before conception.

Dr. Jodie Peacock, BSc, ND

Dr. Jodie Peacock ND is a naturopathic doctor, author and public educator. Dr. Jodie Peacock’s ND passion for naturopathic medicine stems from the ability to spend quality time with her patients helping to treat the whole person instead of just their symptoms.  Fertility Friends Foundaion is excited to be a part of Dr. Peacock’s Canadian Fertility Show held on Sat. May 13th at the International Centre in Mississauga.  Don’t miss it!

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