You may be wondering what a prenatal supplement actually is? Well, it is a multivitamin and mineral supplement that has been specifically designed to support women towards a successful conception and to meet the increased nutritional demands that are experienced during pregnancy
Nowadays, there are many of these prenatal supplements on the market. Suppose you are pregnant, trying to conceive, or thinking about having a baby soon; you may be asking yourself whether you should be taking one. Not only that, how do you decide which one to take? A lot to think about, right?
Don’t worry, we’ve got your back. Read this article to find out who should take a prenatal supplement and why. We’ll also tell you what to look out for in a good quality supplement. Let’s dive in!
Why should I take a prenatal supplement?
1. Support the healthy development of your baby
During pregnancy, a mother’s diet not only provides you with the nutrition you need to support your health and wellbeing but it also provides your baby with the essential nutrients it needs to grow and develop properly too.
Getting adequate amounts of nutrients such as folate, iodine, and iron are crucial for a baby’s development as they impact foetal growth, help prevent birth defects as well as influence the development of the baby’s brain.
Your body has an increased requirement for some of these nutrients during pregnancy meaning we need to consume more of them to maintain both maternal and foetal health.
A prenatal supplement can provide these essential nutrients and top up the amount that you are getting from your diet.
2. Help to optimise your nutrient intake
A healthy diet is an important foundation for both preconception and pregnancy; however, sometimes there can be nutrient gaps in our diet even when we feel we’re eating well - in fact, it’s pretty difficult to ensure your diet includes adequate amounts of all the nutrients you need every day.
During preconception and pregnancy, there are many important nutrients including folate, vitamin D, iodine, and iron; taking a daily prenatal supplement can help you to achieve these important targets.
3. Boost your antioxidant intake
Antioxidants are powerful little molecules that protect our cells from oxidative stress, which can damage our cells and negatively affect cell function. As a result, antioxidants support our reproductive health; they can protect our maturing eggs from oxidative stress enhancing egg quality, help to create a receptive environment for embryo implantation, and may support pregnancy outcomes too.
Key antioxidant nutrients include vitamin C and vitamin E.
4. Research shows that prenatal supplements can support fertility
Although a prenatal supplement cannot guarantee conception, research shows that taking a prenatal supplement can reduce the risk of fertility issues related to ovulation.
In a study of over 18,000 women, it was found that those women who took a multivitamin supplement at least six times per week had significantly lower risk of infertility related to ovulation.
Another review on the topic concluded that prenatal supplements can reduce time taken to get pregnant as well as increasing overall chances of getting pregnant.
What nutrients to look out for and why
When you look at the ingredients label of a prenatal supplement there may be lots of nutrients listed, which at first glance can feel a little overwhelming. Some important nutrients to look out for when choosing your prenatal supplement are:
- Folic acid: All women who are trying to conceive are advised to take at least a 400mcg supplement of folic acid in the 12 weeks prior to conception, and for at least the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. A key reason for this is to prevent neural tube defects. Folate also supports egg quality, implantation and supports the continuation of a healthy pregnancy. Some women may require a higher (5mg) dose, for instance ,if they have had a previous pregnancy affected by neural tube defects, certain health conditions such as diabetes, or they have a Body Mass Index over 30.
- Vitamin D: A prenatal supplement should contain at least 10mcg of vitamin D3. This helps to sustain a healthy pregnancy and can reduce the time it takes to get pregnant.
- A range of antioxidants such as vitamin C, vitamin E and zinc.
- Vitamin B6: adequate levels help to promote progesterone, supporting implantation, and sustain a healthy pregnancy.
- Iodine: deficiency in iodine can be a factor in unexplained infertility, it is also important for foetal brain development.
When should I start taking a prenatal supplement?
If you are able to, it is advised to start taking your prenatal supplement 12 weeks prior to conception. This allows your body time to build up reserves of essential nutrients it requires during pregnancy as well as have a regular supply of all of the fertility supporting nutrients it needs.
A prenatal supplement is designed to be taken all the way through pregnancy and it will continue to provide the necessary nutrients you and your baby require throughout your pregnancy.
If you have any left over it is safe to continue taking them post pregnancy while your body is recovering - which makes things nice and easy.
Folic acid vs methyl folate
You may notice that certain prenatal supplements have different types of folate - so let’s tell you a little bit more about this!
Folate is another word for vitamin B9 which is naturally found in many foods. Folic acid is the synthetic version of folate or vitamin B9 that you find in some supplements and also fortified foods.
The NHS recommends that women take 400mcg folic acid every day, for ideally 3 months before pregnancy and for the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. The reason folic acid is recommended is due to research demonstrating its role in the prevention of neural tube defects.
Some prenatal supplements now contain methyl folate (methyl tetrahydrofolate) instead of folic acid. Methyl folate is an active form of folate/vitamin B9 meaning that it is readily available for use in the body. Folic acid on the other hand needs to be converted within the body to methyl folate before it can have its intended effects.
Methyl folate has gained popularity as there is evidence that some people, albeit a minority, may not be able to convert folic acid into its active form so easily due to a genetic variant they may have. This means that they may not be able to experience the intended benefits of folic acid, hence the rise in popularity of methylated folate.
The bottom line
Preconception and pregnancy are precious times and we want to ensure that you provide yourself with all the nutrients you and your baby need. A prenatal supplement is an accessible, low-risk option that can help you to reach important nutrient targets whilst promoting your fertility and reducing the risk of any pregnancy related issues.