Jill is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist who has been providing nutrition guidance to children and adults for over 20 years. She currently supports both PCOS and fertility patients at Illume Fertility with her broad experience and unique perspective. Jill is passionate about helping people work towards their healthiest selves by providing evidence-based, sustainable, personalized diet and lifestyle guidance.
In theory, taking a prenatal vitamin could be considered one of the easiest parts of trying to conceive. In reality, choosing which supplements to take can be a confusing and overwhelming task, especially since these things can seemingly be a key ingredient to achieving all of your hopes and dreams.
With so much information out there, you may feel pressure to take ALL of the vitamins (which, by the way, is not the best course of action), or to find the perfect choice. Neither mindset is particularly helpful - which is why I am here to help answer the most common questions about prenatal vitamins and supplements, provide a few pointers, and hopefully relieve some of the pressure you may be feeling.
First, let’s take a step back and focus on food. Getting essential nutrients from eating a balanced diet (including foods from all food groups) is the first step in helping prepare your body for a healthy pregnancy and baby.
Choosing nutrient-dense foods like whole grains, lean proteins, and colorful fruits and vegetables gives you the best "bang for your buck" in terms of meeting your micronutrient (and macronutrient) needs, not to mention fiber and phytonutrients that are simply unmatched by any supplement.
Takeaway: Incorporating nutrient-dense foods into your meal plan is complemented by taking a prenatal vitamin and is essential and beneficial for conception, a healthy pregnancy, and a healthy baby.
Let's dive in and talk about 10 things to think about when considering vitamins and supplements for pregnancy!
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10 Tips for Picking the Best Prenatal Vitamin
What are the most important things to keep in mind when researching prenatal vitamins? And which nutrients are most essential for preconception and prenatal health? Keep reading to find out.
1. Start now
Instead of waiting until you're pregnant to start taking prenatal vitamins, get ahead of the game and start taking one today. A daily prenatal is beneficial three months (or more) prior to conception, fertility treatments, and/or pregnancy. It helps set the stage for healthy development and supports healthy growth through pregnancy and beyond. So don't wait - start early! (And grab our 90-Day Preconception Checklist!)
2. Consider your personal preferences
For example, do you have any allergies? What about any medical or religious restrictions? Do you need a kosher or vegetarian supplement? What about allergen-free? Or do you require special dosing or additional supplements (for example, as is the case for people with the genetic mutation MTHFR)? Do you have a history of bariatric surgery or anemia? All of these factors should be taken into account when choosing a prenatal vitamin.
3. Note the daily serving size
The number of daily pills or capsules required to get the nutrients listed on the bottle’s nutrition label will be listed as the "serving size." Believe it or not, this serving size can range from one to up to six pills daily, depending on the brand. Is the recommended serving size realistic for you?
Keep in mind, taking less than the recommended dose may increase risk of birth defects and nutrient deficiency. Additionally, taking more than what's recommended on the bottle is neither better nor safe for you and the baby, and it can even mask other nutrient deficiencies.
4. Compare costs
While some prenatal vitamins may seem more costly at first glance, they may actually provide a 2-3 month supply, making them the more cost-effective option. Along the same lines, some may include DHA, and therefore may not require additional supplementation. Read the labels carefully to fully understand what each prenatal vitamin provides. There are lots of options out there at various price points.
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5. More doesn't mean better
There are a lot of important vitamins and minerals needed for pregnancy. Getting them all in an individual pill, in addition to eating a well-balanced diet, could be a lot to swallow (pun intended). I generally recommend taking a prenatal that meets all or most of your recommended nutrient needs.
While you may not find an all-inclusive prenatal that suits your specific needs, you may only have one or two extras to add, rather than remembering to take several pills during the day. Additionally, this can help reduce the risk of nutrient deficiencies and overdoing it (if nutrients are excluded, doses are often missed or accidentally repeated).
6. Avoid gummies
Yes, they are colorful, sweet, and make taking vitamins a lot easier for some. Unfortunately, with a gummy multivitamin or prenatal vitamin, some essential nutrients are usually missing or present only in lower doses. This is especially true for iron.
Remember: If you struggle to swallow pills, your nutritionist/practitioner can help you find a more tolerable option without compromising the nutrients you need. Just ask!
7. Watch out for added herbs
Many herbal supplements are contraindicated in pregnancy, and may interact with medications you might be taking for fertility. Check with your doctor if you have more questions about an ingredient in a specific prenatal.
8. Look for these noteworthy nutrients
Including at least 600 mcg folic acid (the synthetic form of the B vitamin, folate) is beneficial for anyone thinking about trying to conceive (at Illume Fertility, we recommend 800-1000 mcg for pregnancy). Why? During the first 28 days of conception, the neural tube develops, ultimately becoming the baby’s spinal cord, spine, skull, and brain later in pregnancy.
A birth defect (called a neural tube defect) can occur without adequate folic acid, reiterating the importance of taking a quality prenatal several weeks or months before conception. In addition, folic acid plays a role in DNA synthesis of red blood cells, the nervous system, and proteins, and helps to support the placenta and prevent miscarriage, preterm delivery, and maternal anemia.
Food sources of folic acid includelentils, beans, spinach, eggs, seeds, oranges, and nuts.
Checking this level is a regular part of your bloodwork in our practice. With regard to fertility and reproduction, vitamin D assists with ovulatory regulation and healthy egg formation. Normal levels have been associated with higher IVF success in some studies and are essential for a healthy pregnancy.
In contrast, vitamin D deficiency is associated with an increased risk of pre-eclampsia, gestational diabetes, poor bone growth, and low birth weight in newborns. Most prenatal vitamins contain some vitamin D, but your healthcare provider may suggest additional supplementation to help keep your levels within the optimal range.
Food sources include fortified milk, yogurt, cereals, egg yolks, and fatty fish.
Find more ways to support your health:
Higher maternal intake of choline during pregnancy can improve pregnancy outcomes and baby’s health (i.e. lower risk of pre-eclampsia, reduce risk of neural tube defects, ease the baby’s response to stress, improve aspects of brain function, and has benefits that continue while breastfeeding).
Despite the scientific evidence on choline's benefits, most prenatal vitamins haven’t caught up yet and may only have small amounts of choline, if any. A good way to make up the difference is through a well-balanced diet.
Food sources include egg yolks, beef, pork, salmon, navy beans, and broccoli.
Iron is essential! It is needed to make the hemoglobin protein that carries oxygen to tissues. The need for iron doubles in pregnancy to accommodate maternal and fetal blood supplies. Ensuring adequate iron intake can help prevent anemia, fatigue, preterm delivery, and low birth weight in babies.
Food sources include red meat, poultry, fish, pork, iron-fortified cereals, grains, lentils, and beans.
DHA is an essential omega-3 fatty acid beneficial for the development of your baby’s brain, vision, and nervous system. Some prenatal vitamins include this, but getting enough of this nutrient often requires additional supplementation.
Food sources include wild salmon, sardines, anchovies, and DHA-omega eggs.
Bonus Supplement: CoQ10
This naturally occurring antioxidant produced in our bodies is essential for cellular energy production. Supplementing with CoQ10 (in addition to a good prenatal vitamin) has many health benefits, especially for fertility. It has been shown to improve sperm motility, density, and morphology, as well as improve egg quality.
Your doctor may recommend supplementing with CoQ10, particularly if you are undergoing IVF or want to try to improve egg quality. There are different forms of this nutrient, some more readily absorbed than others. Talk to your practitioner to determine what dosing and form are best for you.
Get a personalized plan just for you:
9. Keep it up
Continuing your prenatal for 6-12+ months after you have delivered your baby can help restore and replenish your body and help meet your and your baby’s needs, especially if you are breastfeeding.
10. Remember your needs are unique
While these nutrients are important, many others are as well, and a regimen is not necessarily a "one size fits all" kind of deal. The question "What nutrients do I need?" can ultimately best be answered after your fertility specialist has evaluated all of your bloodwork. Always check with your healthcare provider before starting a vitamin regimen, and ask which additional supplements may suit your individual needs.
The Bottom Line: Be Proactive
With these 10 takeaways in mind, I hope you feel a bit more confident in choosing your prenatal vitamin.
At Illume Fertility, we offer a premium selection of vitamins and supplements we trust. If you’re a patient at Illume and are interested in purchasing supplements through us, please contact your nutritionist or Care Team. Good luck on your path to parenthood - you’re already taking a big first step by ensuring you get all the right nutrients!
Want to learn more about nutrition and fertility? Check out the following resources: