These days, it's difficult (for many reasons) to get all the nutrients you need from the foods you eat—and that's even assuming we're eating the right foods. Close to 80% of the U.S. population doesn't get the recommended daily servings of veggies and fruit!
With this in mind, you can see how nutritional deficiencies or inadequacies—levels not low enough to have a clinical deficiency but less than the recommended amount and therefore potentially health-harming—are commonplace.
I share the view of clinicians from the functional medicine community (and others) that most of us need to be taking at least some supplements in order to correct these inadequacies and optimize our lifespan and healthspan. And there is no group of people for whom this is more important than women who are trying to conceive.
Three Main Reasons Why Prenatal Supplements Are So Essential
Prenatal supplements that are high quality and bio-available (able to be absorbed and used by your body) are critical for both maternal and fetal health. Here are three specific reasons why I strongly stand by this statement:
- A sufficient prenatal routine supports fertility and healthy reproduction. According to research, nutrients like zinc, folic acid, Vitamin B12, and omega-3 fatty acids can help you get and stay pregnant. Proper nutrient intake also supports sperm health, so future fathers need to be minding their nutrition and supplement intake, too!
- A sufficient prenatal routine prevents fetal/infant health problems. Consistent evidence shows that taking prenatal vitamins can decrease the risk of congenital anomalies (like neural tube defects and cleft palates) as well as child health problems including leukemia, pediatric brain tumors, and even child obesity. On the flip side, proper prenatal supplementation can optimize your future child's health by supporting fetal development and influencing epigenetic expression. Keep in mind that important developmental processes happen within the first couple weeks after conception—a time when many women don't even know they're pregnant yet! This is why many organizations and doctors advise any woman of child-bearing age to take a prenatal supplement (with their doctor's input, of course), even if she's not actively trying to have children. This will ensure that even an unexpected pregnancy will start off with a deep enough well of nutrients for the fetus to draw from.
- A sufficient prenatal routine prevents you from becoming nutritionally depleted during and after pregnancy. Postnatal depletion—which include symptoms like anxiety, chronic fatigue, insomnia, hair loss, and a heightened startle reflex—makes the already difficult time of new motherhood even harder. By going into your pregnancy with enough nutrients to fully support YOUR health as well as your baby's health, you'll be less likely to struggle with this common condition—something that can lead to autoimmune dysfunction and other consequences in many moms.
P.S. Your body is going through a lot of changes at every stage of pregnancy—including post-pregnancy. The demands placed on your energy systems (not to mention your emotions and patience) is profound, so I recommend chatting with your doctor about how long you should continue taking your supplements even after the little one arrives, especially if you're breastfeeding.
The Top Prenatal Vitamins Recommended by Doctors and Research
So we get that prenatal vitamins are important, yes? Now I'd like to review quickly which ones appear to be the most essential during the important pre-pregnancy, trying to conceive (TTC) time in a woman's life.
Please remember that I am not diagnosing nor treating disease here. I am simply giving information that you can review with your doc. I also urge you to consider that certain individual factors will influence which types of nutrients YOU may need more than others. For instance, do you take any medications (like NSAIDS or antidepressants) which may deplete certain nutrients (like zinc or folate, respectively)? Are you super stressed or dealing with chronic inflammation (which can disrupt gut health and reproductive health)? Do you get enough healthy sun exposure? How much of a healthy overhaul does your diet need? These and other questions can help you identify and prioritize the most essential nutrients for you specifically. My point is there is a lot to consider and this is just what we have found (based off research) to help support this phase of life.
Top 2 Prenatal Vitamin Brands
- Optimal Prenatal: this high quality prenatal ensures your baby has everything needed for every stage of development without leaving you nutrient-depleted. Choose capsules, chewables, OR protein powder, with the latter being more nutritionally complete. This prenatal also provides 800 mcg of folate as methylfolate and folinic acid (important for reducing risk of neural tube defects). It's iron-free, so it won't compete with calcium absorption. Need iron during pregnancy (as many women do)? Consider a separate high quality iron supplement, not to be taken at the same time as your prenatal. You can find the optimal prenatal (with my added discount) by clicking here.
- Designs for Health Prenatal Pro Essential Packets: evidence-based and packed with power! Most women do well with 1-2 packets per day. This prenatal supplement contains sufficient amounts of what the research tells us is helpful for getting pregnant, giving your baby everything it needs when you're pregnant, and even reducing your risk of postnatal depletion. Features include: Vitamin E as mixed tocopherols (better for mamas' hearts compared to the more common alpha tocopherol form), Vitamin B6 to help reduce morning sickness, 100 mcg of choline for fetal brain development, grape seed extract (a potent anti-inflammatory), 200 mg of selenium, and 500 mg of the antioxidant Vitamin C. You can find designs for health pre-natal packets (with my added discount) by clicking here.
In addition to your main prenatal vitamin, I also here's my recommended list of additional prenatal supplements from the true "shotgun approach" that we suggest to optimally support this phase:
- Liposomal Glutathione: a powerful detoxifier, immune enhancer, and antioxidant that fights oxidative stress. Supplementing it during the pre-conception stage helps ensure that your body quells the harmful effects of stress and inflammation. Stop taking once pregnant and refer to your physician for recommendations during breastfeeding. Linked and discounted for you here.
- Optimal PC: these healthy phospholipids support heart health, brain health, and muscle recovery. Linked and discounted for you here.
- ProBiota HistaminX: this probiotic supplement improves the levels of healthy bacteria in your gut so you can stay healthy and able to absorb all the great nutrients from your diet and supplements. Linked and discounted for you here.
- Optimal Fish Oil: a MUST for for pre-pregnancy, pregnancy, and post-pregnancy. This highly concentrated fish oil contains omega-3 fatty acids which support fetal brain development and reduce inflammation in your body. Linked and discounted for you here.
- Optimal Vitamin D3+K2 Drops: research indicates that Vitamin D3 and Vitamin K2 may support bone health, immune health, circulation, and fetal growth and development. Taking K2 along with D3 helps your body absorb the latter more efficiently. Linked and discounted for you here.
- Optimal Iron Chewable or Optimal Iron with Cofactors: your body needs iron to shuttle oxygen to your tissues (and future developing fetus). Choose one or the other (as recommended by your physician). These should be taken at least 2 hours before or after you take your prenatal, since calcium in you prenatal may compete with iron absorption. Linked and discounted for you here.
Also, as needed:
- Optimal Electrolyte (berry, orange or unsweetened): Electrolytes support overall energy and vitality by enhancing ATP production (cell fuel). Consider adding if you sweat a lot or are experiencing tons of stress. Linked and discounted for you here.
- Liposomal Vitamin C Plus: consider adding if you need extra support for your immune system (e.g., cold and flu season, high stress). Linked and discounted for you here.
About Seeking Health
You guys know: I NEVER do sponsored ads on my socials. I just don't. Not that there's anything wrong with that per se, but as a general rule I find it more in line with my values to only share products, services, and companies with you guys that I personally create rather than ones that have paid me to market for them. You guys also probably know that I am a healthy skeptic and never one to shy away from calling products, services, and companies out for their B.S!
Because of this, I hope you can take it on good faith that Seeking Health—the supplement company I've recently partnered with—is totally legit. Their team is led by a board-certified naturopathic physician, Dr. Ben Lynch, who came highly recommended to me by women's health leaders in my field.
The number one thing I love and appreciate about this company is that the supplements they sell are truly high quality. And when I say that the quality of your prenatal vitamins matter, I can't emphasize this enough:
If your vitamins aren't high quality, your body won't be able to absorb them, which translates to wasted money and potentially harmful nutritional insufficiencies.
Seeking Health also shares one of my highest values—optimizing human health through disease prevention. And they even offer online courses to help their customer base expand their knowledge and gain access to the latest information in nutritional science and more. Very cool!
So how's your prenatal supplement routine? It's never too early to start thinking about what your body and your future baby will need—or to speak with your doc about specific recommendations. In the meantime, I invite you to check out my supplement store to learn more about the awesome packages and products I proudly suggest with Seeking Health to help support health optimally through this phase of life. To see my whole supplement suspensory and all our suggestion packages we have out together you can click here!
Serrallach, O. (2018). The Postnatal Depletion Cure: A Complete Guide to Rebuilding Your Health and Reclaiming Your Energy for Mothers of Newborns, Toddlers, and Young Children. New York: Goop Press.