Concerned about your future fertility? You’re not the only one. Optimizing your health in the years leading up to pregnancy is not only ideal for giving yourself the best shot at a baby, but also for giving that not-yet-conceived kid his or her best shot at good health, too.
To cover your bases as you inch ever-so-slightly closer to the childbearing phase of life—as many of my “thinking about it” friends have done—you may decide to just throw a prenatal vitamin into the mix. It can’t hurt, right? Experts, however, tell me that this isn’t necessarily the way to go.
Dr. Zev Williams, MD, PhD, Chief of the Division of Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility at Colombia University Medical Center, for example, says that the large amount of iron in prenatal vitamins may cause unpleasant side effects, such as constipation. In fact, Dr. Williams cautions against overdoing it on supplements in general. He says that when it comes to nutrient levels, there’s normal and there’s abnormal, but there’s not “better than normal.” “The body has evolved to need what it can get,” he says. “If there’s a problem, you have to fix it. But in the absence of that, I think giving the body a balanced diet is the best approach.”
Even so, there are certain nutrients that many women aren’t getting enough of through food alone—some of which may have an impact on your fertility and pregnancy. With this in mind, Dr. Williams and other medical professionals gave me a shortlist of supplements they do recommend for those who are starting to think about getting pregnant… soon(ish).
Scroll down for the supplements you should take now to support pregnancy in the years to come.
Parsley Health’s Jeffery Egler, MD, tells me that his pre-pregnancy health recommendations aren’t really all that different from his regular health recommendations. As such, he offers an appropriately simple solution. “Consider a multivitamin, particularly one with at least 400-800 mcg of a methylated (activated) folate,” he advises.
There’s a reason Dr. Egler makes that folic acid disclaimer. According to Dr. Williams, it’s been shown to support healthy pregnancy outcomes, and not just for those who are already knocked up. “Even before a woman’s pregnant, folic acid may play an important role in egg development and help to ensure that the woman ovulates a healthy egg,” he says. As he explains it, though a woman’s lifetime supply of eggs is present at birth, each individual egg starts to develop three months before it’s released at ovulation. (Who knew?) “When they start to grow, it’s important that they have that folic acid available to them, to try to give them the healthiest chances,” Dr. Williams says.
Another supplement experts agree is important for pre-prenatal women to consider is vitamin D. “Research shows that increased vitamin D intake may help prevent or treat common conditions that contribute to infertility, including PCOS and endometriosis,” says nutritionist Whitney English, RD. Adds Dr. Williams, “We think of vitamin D as a nutrient or a vitamin, but it’s actually a hormone—its role is an anti-inflammatory agent.” Lower inflammation, says reproductive health expert and Well+Good Council member Alisa Vitti, equals improved fertility. And when you actually conceive, adequate vitamin D levels can help to prevent miscarriage, Dr. Williams adds.
English recommends that anyone with a serum vitamin D level of less than 30 ng/ml supplement with 1000-2000 IU per day. However, Williams says there’s some evidence that vitamin D absorbed through the skin might be better than what you take by mouth. “The best way to get vitamin D is through the sun,” he says, noting that just 15 minutes under the rays is adequate. (And advised, due to skin cancer risk—exposure only counts when you’re not wearing sunblock).
According to Vitti, the adaptogen maca is another supplement that can be helpful when you’re thinking about having a baby—particularly if you’re over 35. “It’s a great way to increase essential fuel for ovulation and conception,” she says. “It’s rich in vitamins and minerals that are necessary for conception and has critical amino acids and fatty acids, too.” She recommends red maca over black maca, and says to look for one in a gelatinized form, so it’s easy to digest.
It should be noted, however, that when it comes to adaptogen use in general, Dr. Williams advises caution. “I totally appreciate and empathize with the idea of trying to do everything possible to try to help the chances of fertility,” he says. “However, I get very nervous any time we’re using agents that haven’t been carefully studied that we might be causing more harm than good.” So if you’re about to start trying for a little one, check in with your doctor before starting any new herbs—remember, you’re now supplementing for two.
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