Do Prenatal Vitamins Help You Get Pregnant?
Written by: Heidi Wright, BSN, RN, PCCN
Are you trying to conceive and wondering if prenatal vitamins can boost your chances of getting pregnant? With so much information available, and everyone you know probably imparting their own opinions on you, it can be challenging to separate fact from fiction. Add to that the myriad of supplements in the pharmacy that are marketed to people trying to conceive, and it gets even more confusing. Let’s do a deep dive into prenatal vitamins and their potential impact on fertility. We’re here to help you decide whether prenatal vitamins can be beneficial to you on your journey to pregnancy.
What are prenatal vitamins?
Prenatal vitamins are specially formulated supplements designed to support nutritional needs in people with uterine reproductive systems before, during, and after pregnancy. They typically contain a combination of vitamins, minerals, and other essential nutrients that are crucial for the healthy development of a baby and to support the mother's overall health during pregnancy. Prenatal vitamins typically contain higher levels of certain vitamins and minerals such as folic acid, iron, calcium, and omega-3 fatty acids. These nutrients play a vital role in supporting the growth and development of the fetus, preventing birth defects, and maintaining the mother's well-being.
What’s the big deal about taking prenatal vitamins while trying to conceive?
During the preconception period (pre-pregnancy), taking prenatal vitamins can help ensure that your body has the right nutrients to support fertility and a healthy pregnancy. These vitamins are essential for the development of a healthy fetus, and they play a crucial role in your overall reproductive health. Specifically during the time before and at the beginning of pregnancy, your body needs more iron and folic acid. Iron helps prevent anemia, and ensures that you have the building blocks your body needs to increase your blood supply and bring that precious oxygen to your growing fetus.
Folic acid helps prevent serious abnormalities of the brain and spinal cord in fetuses, called neural tube defects. Folic acid supplementation is recommended before conceiving, at least one to three months ahead of time. If neural tube defects occur, they begin in the first 3-4 weeks of pregnancy. This is why it is recommended to start taking prenatal vitamins when you’re planning to start trying to get pregnant, as prenatal vitamins contain folic acid.
What is the link between prenatal vitamins and fertility?
Now we’re getting to the good news – prenatal vitamins can be very beneficial for individuals with reproductive systems who are trying to conceive. Several studies have explored the relationship between prenatal vitamins and fertility. Although the evidence is not cut and dry, there are indications that certain nutrients found in prenatal vitamins may positively affect fertility outcomes.
- Folic Acid. Folic acid is a vital nutrient that helps prevent neural tube defects in the developing fetus. This is well known. However, it is also thought to contribute to healthy ovulation and implantation, reduce the time spent trying to conceive, and support a healthy pregnancy.
- Iron.Iron supports healthy blood production and oxygen transport, which is crucial for reproductive health. A study in 2006 that followed the diet and supplements of women of childbearing age for eight years showed those who supplemented with iron were at a lower risk of ovulatory infertility (disorders in which you don’t ovulate or it occurs infrequently).
- Vitamin D. Vitamin D deficiency has been linked to infertility in some studies, so ensuring adequate levels of this vitamin can support reproductive health.
- Omega-3 Fatty Acids. These essential fats have been associated with improved fertility in both female and male factor infertility situations, and may help regulate hormones and support a healthy reproductive system.
While these nutrients can be obtained through a balanced diet, supplements such as prenatal vitamins provide an easy-to-access way to ensure you're meeting your nutritional needs, especially during the preconception period. Many (to be honest, most people in the Western world) people do not meet their daily nutritional needs with diet alone.
Who should take prenatal vitamins?
Prenatal vitamins are recommended for all individuals with uterine reproductive systems who are planning to conceive, as well as those who are already pregnant. Ideally, it is best to start taking prenatal vitamins at least one to three months before attempting to conceive, increasing the chances of a healthy conception and pregnancy.
Consult with your healthcare provider before starting any new supplement regimen, including prenatal vitamins. Prenatal vitamins fall under the supplement industry, so they are not regulated by the FDA. They can provide personalized advice based on your specific health needs and recommend the most suitable prenatal vitamins for you.
How do you choose the right kind of prenatal vitamins?
Prenatal vitamins are available nearly everywhere – from the pharmacy to the grocery store aisle. The choices are overwhelming. When selecting prenatal vitamins, consider the following factors:
- Nutrient Content. Look for prenatal vitamins that contain essential nutrients like folic acid, iron, vitamin D, calcium, and omega-3 fatty acids.
- Quality and Safety. Choose reputable brands that adhere to quality standards and undergothird-party testing to ensure that the supplement actually contains what it says it does, at the dose it claims, and that there are not any other impurities in the supplement. Ask your healthcare provider and pharmacist for their recommendations. Since vitamins and supplements are not regulated by the FDA, it’s best to find out who your healthcare team recommends and research if that brand is third-party tested.
- Personal Health Considerations. Your healthcare provider can guide you in choosing prenatal vitamins that align with any specific health conditions or dietary restrictions you may have. For example, if you are deficient in vitamin D and are anemic, you may need higher doses of vitamins D and C, and additional iron supplements.
Do prenatal vitamins have any side effects?
In general, prenatal vitamins are considered beneficial and well tolerated; however, like any supplement, they may have some potential side effects. These can include nausea, constipation, gassiness, or, very rarely, allergic reactions. Sometimes the side effects can be difficult to distinguish between the symptoms of normal pregnancy.
To minimize discomfort, if you are experiencing a side effect, change up the time of day you take the vitamin. Consider taking prenatal vitamins with food or right before bed. Drink plenty of water, and consume a sufficient amount of fiber in your diet (most of us are not getting the recommended amount). If you experience severe side effects or have concerns, consult your healthcare provider.
Is there a difference between prenatal vitamins and fertility supplements?
Yes, they are different. Prenatal vitamins and fertility supplements serve different purposes in the realm of reproductive health.
Prenatal vitamins are specifically formulated to support the nutritional needs of people who are pregnant or planning to conceive. As discussed above, these supplements typically contain a combination of vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients that are crucial for a healthy pregnancy. They aim to ensure that expectant parents receive adequate levels of essential nutrients like folic acid, iron, calcium, and omega-3 fatty acids, which are important for fetal development and keeping moms healthy.
Fertility supplements are designed to support fertility for both males and females, and often have different blends for each. They often contain a blend of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and herbal extracts that are believed to positively impact reproductive health. Fertility supplements may target various aspects of fertility, such as hormonal balance, egg quality, sperm health, and overall reproductive function. These supplements are typically taken by individuals who are actively trying to conceive and want to optimize their chances of getting pregnant. The fertility supplement industry is relatively new compared to the longer history of prenatal vitamins in the United States. It's important to note that while some ingredients found in fertility supplements may overlap with those in prenatal vitamins, the formulations and dosages can differ significantly. If fertility supplements are going to be used, it should only be under the guidance of a healthcare professional or fertility specialist, as individual needs vary greatly.
Do I need to take fertility supplements too?
Additional supplements that are marketed for fertility support, beyond the essential vitamins in prenatals we’ve already discussed, are numerous indeed. It’s important to know that fertility supplements are not the same thing as a prenatal vitamin and should be discussed with your healthcare provider before starting one. You may be hearing lots of information from friends, family, message boards, and infertility groups about what different supplements they recommend. I know during my own TTC journeys, I had different cultural influences advising me in different ways; as a Hispanic woman, there were specific herbs traditionally used in my family that I was encouraged by them to take. In the Facebook groups I frequented before my third pregnancy, Coenzyme Q10, Myo-Inositol & D-Chiro-Inositol, and N-acetyl-cysteine (NAC) were trending, whereas with my first pregnancy, all anyone talked about was Omega-3 Fatty Acids and Maca root.
There is a lot of ongoing research surrounding additional supplements to support fertility. Many studies have examined the effects of supplements on fertility and more research is coming out each year to help us better understand the science behind our traditions and lived experiences. What it comes down to is that the effectiveness of these supplements varies among individuals, and they should be used as part of a comprehensive approach to fertility, including a healthy diet, regular exercise, and appropriate medical care. It's always best to consult with a healthcare provider or fertility specialist before starting any new supplements to ensure they are suitable for your specific needs and circumstances. Since the supplement industry is unregulated, you need to be sure, first of all, that the supplement is safe for you to take, particularly during the preconception time period. Second, discuss with your healthcare provider what you, as an individual, may need. There is a big difference between what actually will support your fertility and what is just making very expensive urine.
Do prenatal vitamins really help boost your fertility?
While prenatal vitamins are not a treatment for infertility or a solution for getting pregnant right away, they play a vital role in supporting your reproductive health. They provide essential nutrients that support fertility and a healthy pregnancy. In addition to prenatal vitamins, pre-pregnancy supplements can be considered for female-factor infertility and male-factor infertility under the supervision of a healthcare provider.
Prenatal vitamins are not a replacement for a healthy lifestyle and diet. Prenatal vitamins should complement a healthy lifestyle that includes a balanced diet, regular exercise, no smoking, and reduced stress. To ensure you're meeting your body’s unique needs, consult with your healthcare provider who can offer personalized advice and recommendations tailored to your situation.
If you’re looking for support on where to begin with pre-pregnancy nutrition, Doveras created an evidence-based program that focuses on the latest science in nutrition, toxin reduction, and overall wellness to support the health of your eggs and sperm, with the goal of increasing your chances of getting pregnant faster. It's ideal for you if you're actively trying to conceive, planning to start trying in the next six months, or simply curious about your fertility health. The best part is that it's designed for both individuals and couples, so you can embark on this journey together. Use our code “MosieBaby20” for 20% off all products.
By taking proactive steps to support your reproductive health and well-being, like considering your dietary needs carefully, you're giving yourself the best possible chance to conceive and embark on a healthy pregnancy journey!
Mayo Clinic (2023).Prenatal vitamins: Why they matter, how to choose. Retrieved June 5, 2023, fromhttps://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/pregnancy-week-by-week/in-depth/prenatal-vitamins/art-20046945#
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Heidi Wright, BSN, RN, PCCN is a Registered Nurse passionate about public health and expanding healthcare resources and prenatal care to diverse, rural, and underserved Hispanic, African American, American Indian, and Alaska Native communities. With 20 years of experience in healthcare, Heidi specializes in supporting patients with chronic illness and reproductive system disorders.