You may know that pregnancy causes an increased demand for calories and nutrients, but it’s also important to support your body when trying to conceive. Vitamin and mineral deficiencies in pregnancy can cause harmful effects on the unborn baby and your own health. It’s important to begin certain supplements before getting pregnant to build up your levels and put you at optimum health to conceive.
What are the key players?
Vitamins are essential to helping your body function properly, especially during this very important stage of your life when you're deciding to conceive. It’s important to maintain a healthy lifestyle as well as balanced nutrition but there are also some key vitamins you may benefit from supplementing with. Let’s review some of the important nutrients that can help support you on your journey to conceive.
Folate is a B vitamin that is naturally occurring in many foods. Folate is generally used to describe the different forms of Vitamin B 9. You can find folate naturally occurring in leafy greens, beans and citrus.
Folic acid is a synthetic form of folate. It is found in most supplements and in fortified foods in the United States. You can find it in fortified cereals and bread products in addition to prenatal vitamins and other vitamin supplements.
Deficiencies in folic acid can cause what is termed neural tube defects in an unborn baby. The neural tube is the early structure that forms the brain and spinal cord of a baby. The neural tube closes very early in pregnancy and if it doesn’t close properly, can lead to birth defects of the brain and spinal cord. Since this happens within about the first month of pregnancy, it’s important to begin taking folic acid before you become pregnant to build up your levels.
According to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, it’s recommended women begin taking a folic acid supplement a minimum of one month prior to getting pregnant. Their recommendation is at least 400mcg daily to increase blood levels of folic acid enough to where it can help prevent neural tube defects.
Taking a higher dose for a shorter amount of time won’t necessarily increase your levels faster. Folic acid is a water soluble vitamin, meaning it is generally not stored in the body and will need to be taken regularly. In order to raise your blood concentration levels, you need to take a specific dose for an extended period of time. It’s unlikely you’ll get enough from food sources alone so a supplement is recommended.
Vitamin D is not just a vitamin, it’s actually a hormone. As you may know, our greatest source of vitamin D comes from sunlight. When the skin is exposed to the sun, it produces vitamin D.
Some studies looking at women going through IVF, have found that taking Vitamin D actually improves embryo quality and pregnancy outcomes. Although more research needs to be done, it suggests that low vitamin D may play a role in infertility and egg quality.
Vitamin D is also important for pregnancy. According to the World Health Organization, it’s thought vitamin D supplementation may reduce your risk for preeclampsia (high blood pressure in pregnancy), gestational diabetes, and low birth weight.
Vitamin D is what’s called a fat soluble vitamin, meaning it’s stored in the liver and fatty tissues. Because of this it’s eliminated slowly and can put you at higher risk for getting too much. Check with your doctor before starting a Vitamin D supplement, they may want to check your level through a blood test to know how much supplementation is needed.
Omega 3 Fatty Acids
Omega 3 fatty acids are nutrients essential to health. They cannot be produced by the body so need to be obtained through food and supplements. Depending on where you live, your diet may be very low is omega 3s.
Omega 3s may play a role in increasing egg quality and quantity, possibly helping women to stay fertile for longer, according to several studies. Egg quality and quantity are the two main factors that effect a woman's ability to get pregnant. For a more in depth look at what they mean, check out our blog post: Egg Quality & Quantity
During pregnancy, Omega 3s have many benefits to the growing baby. These include help with development of the brain, eyes, nervous system and immune development.
Omega 3s come in different forms but the most beneficial forms are EPA & DHA. The best sources of EPA & DHA are fish, specifically salmon, tuna, sardines, anchovies or fish oil. However, some fish such as tuna, are only recommended in small quantities or not at all when you're pregnant due to high levels of mercury. If you want to know more about the safest fish to consume during pregnancy, you can visit this site for an extensive list. A good vegetarian alternative of DHA & EPA is algae oil.
Low levels of iron are a common cause of anemia, a condition where the number of red blood cells is lower than would be considered normal. Red blood cells deliver oxygen to the tissue of your body, and during pregnancy, deliver oxygen to the fetus.
Your body’s need for iron increases during pregnancy. The World Health Organization estimates that 40% of pregnant women worldwide are anemic. Severe anemia in pregnancy is associated with preterm delivery, maternal mortality, and low birth weight.
Since it can take several months to restore iron levels to an optimal level, it’s a good idea to check with your doctor and determine your iron levels before you try and get pregnant. If you’re taking a prenatal vitamin, check to see that it contains iron but always confirm with your doctor before taking any additional iron supplements.
Coenzyme Q10 is an antioxidant naturally produced by the body that begins to decline as we age. CoQ10 is needed for healthy tissues and organs. It can help with energy and immune function and can be obtained in the diet by eating fish, organ meat or whole grains.
One study found that aging mice who were given CoQ10 had a higher antral follicle or egg count than mice not taking the supplement, meaning they were better able to retain their ovarian reserve. These mice were also tested for fertility and found to be better able to achieve a normal pregnancy than that of the control group. This suggests that supplementation with CoQ10 may improve overall fertility especially in advanced maternal age.
Optimizing your health and nutrient intake will increase your chances of conceiving and carrying a healthy pregnancy. When possible, start on a prenatal vitamin at least 1-3 months before you’re ready to try & get pregnant. If you’re concerned that you may have a deficiency, check with your healthcare provider to see if you need to add in specific vitamins. Your health is your baby’s health, so doing what’s best for you, will also be best for your growing family.