Conception, fertility, and prenatal vitamins

By Madhavi Gupta, MD


Are you hoping to begin your pregnancy journey soon or just beginning to try? Positive health habits can help you and your body prepare for pregnancy. This is a good time to minimize alcohol, eliminate smoking, focus on healthy nutrition, regular exercise, stress-management, and getting a good night’s sleep. Even before you’re actively trying to conceive, fertility supplements can also be a great way to support your fertility health and prepare for this important lifestage.

Do vitamins boost fertility?

If you have been wondering whether you should start taking vitamins when trying to conceive or if vitamins can affect fertility, the answer is yes. Research confirms that micronutrients play essential roles in fertility, and inadequate levels can have an adverse impact on the ability to conceive. Many women of childbearing age have lower than the recommended levels of certain important micronutrients.

There is evidence that vitamin and mineral supplementation prior to conception can enhance the reproductive environment by helping restore micronutrients to recommended levels and strengthening the antioxidant defense system, thus ameliorating oxidative stress, which can improve oocyte and embryo quality, reducing the time to conception, and increasing the chances of becoming pregnant (1).

 

Who should take fertility vitamins?

The simple answer is anyone trying to conceive, or thinking about it—men and women. Both those trying to conceive naturally and those undergoing fertility treatment can benefit. Fertility supplements have demonstrated positive effects in both circumstances. Micronutrients are essential in supporting reproductive health and in complementing the work you are doing to maintain overall health. No two journeys are the same. Here we will focus on natural conception and the role of nutrients to help prepare you and your baby for a healthy pregnancy.


Prenatal vitamins vs. fertility supplements: which one is right for me? 

Every pregnancy is unique. It’s impossible to predict how long it will take to get pregnant. If you are just beginning to try to conceive or want to be proactive for when you are ready, we recommend starting with prenatal multivitamins at least 3-6 months beforehand. Taking a prenatal vitamin like Mama Bird® Prenatal Multi+ can help you prepare mind and body by setting up good habits that will serve you well. Some of the most important development happens in the first few weeks after conception, often before you even know you are pregnant. When you start taking prenatal vitamins before you conceive, you are preparing your body to be ready with all-important nutrients that can support fetal development immediately.

For him we suggest Ready, Set, Go! Fertility Formula for Men whether preparing, just starting, or experiencing fertility challenges. It’s specifically formulated to give men a complete blend of herbs, antioxidants, as well as a methylated multivitamin to support your fertility journey.

If you have been trying for a while and finding it challenging to conceive, we recommend supplementing with Ready, Set, Go! Fertility Formula for Women created to provide a complete 3-in-1 formula of herbs, antioxidants, along with a methylated prenatal multivitamin to promote vibrant health as you pursue your fertility goals.

For him we suggest Ready, Set, Go! Fertility Formula for Men whether preparing, just starting, or experiencing fertility challenges. It’s specifically formulated to give men a complete blend of herbs, antioxidants, as well as a methylated multivitamin to support your fertility journey.

 

Why micronutrients are so important

When starting the pregnancy journey, diet is very important. Including nutrients that promote vibrant health is one of the most vital steps you can take. Fertility-specific supplements can help provide important nutrients that are virtually impossible to get through diet alone.

Sperm and egg development are highly complex and energy-dependent processes supported by a diverse array of micronutrients. It takes about 90 days for gametes (reproductive cells) to mature and develop. Many of the reactions and structures that are occurring during this time depend heavily on specific and sometimes hard-to-get micronutrients. In addition to this critical development phase, micronutrients also support the fundamentals of reproduction and fertility  (2), such as:

  • sperm motility
  • sperm count
  • sperm DNA fragmentation
  • sperm morphology
  • egg quality and maturation
  • menstrual cycles and ovulation
  • immune function and inflammation
  • energy production (important for egg and sperm production)
  • clinical pregnancy rates

 

Vitamins for male fertility

Men can use fertility vitamins and supplements to support the health of sperm count, motility, and morphology, as well as support testosterone levels, and help improve overall health (2). 

 

Vitamins for female fertility

Prenatal vitamins help you prepare your overall health for conception. Once you have successfully conceived, prenatal vitamins support your health and that of your growing baby throughout and even after pregnancy. Supplements have been shown to support proper fetal development and the health of mom and baby (2, 3).

 

When is the best time to start taking fertility supplements?

Start early. Since sperm and eggs both take approximately 90 days to develop, most specialists recommend taking male and female fertility supplements for at least 90 days before trying to conceive naturally or with fertility treatment. Researchers continue to study the time between sperm production to ejaculation in normal men with more recent findings showing a range of 42 to 76 days (4).

 

What should I look for in a prenatal vitamin to increase fertility?

Supplementation is an important part of your prenatal regimen, before and after conception. Choosing a prenatal supplement can be overwhelming—and not just for the moms-to-be but future-dads too. When starting your pregnancy journey, look for prenatal vitamins that include these essential ingredients:

 

Methylfolate:
Your health care provider may recommend a supplement with folic acid. But, to get a finished folate that the body can immediately use, look for methylfolate. It not only supports neurodevelopment for your future baby (5, 6, 7), including visual, language, and memory skills (8), it also supports your body’s energy production (9, 10), brain’s processing speed (11), and memory. And it is needed for synthesis of the neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine (12), which affect sleep (13), cognitive function (14), and mood (15).

Due to its demonstrated ability to support fetal neurological development and greatly reduce the odds of fetal defects and pregnancy complications, it is recommended that folate (not folic acid) should be taken a minimum of one month prior to any planned conception and continued throughout pregnancy. Due to the association of folate levels with clinical pregnancy rates in those undergoing fertility treatment, it should likely be started sooner if possible.

For men, results are mixed, but given that folate supplementation appears to cause no harm and has the potential to improve fertility, it should certainly be considered as a part of your fertility supplementation routine.  

 

Vitamin B12 Methylcobalamin:
Vitamin B12 is a nutrient that is involved in the metabolism of every cell in the human body. Brain and nervous system development begin much sooner than you’d expect. Methylcobalamin, also known as vitamin B12, helps support this process (16). And when combined with methylfolate, your body forms red blood cells and produces SAMe, a compound involved in immune function and mood. They also help iron work better in the body. If you are vegan or vegetarian during this lifestage, it’s important to supplement your B12, as your body doesn’t make it and it’s almost exclusively found in animal products (17). 

Vitamin B12 helps make DNA and also keeps nerve and blood cells healthy. Fertility specialists agree that vitamin B12 plays an important role in sperm development. Research has shown that vitamin B-12 can help improve semen quality, particularly sperm count and sperm motility (18).

For women, one study showed that women with the highest blood levels of vitamin B-12 had two times the probability of live birth compared with women with the lowest blood levels. By preparing your body with Methylcobalamin before pregnancy, you will be ready to support critical early development once you conceive (19).

 

Vitamin D:
This is one fertility vitamin important to supplement for both men and women during this lifestage. Vitamin D deficiency is incredibly common, affecting roughly 40% of the population. Along with vitamin D's more well-known benefits, like supporting immunity and helping to build healthy bones, this important vitamin can also be supportive on your pregnancy journey. Levels and supplementation have been positively associated with increased clinical pregnancy rates, and more. Scientific studies have shown vitamin D to help nutritionally improve sperm motility, count, or quality in men (20, 21). Other studies indicate that optimal vitamin D levels help regulate sex hormones which work to support a woman’s conception goals (22). 

 

DHA/Omega-3:
DHA is really important during the first week of development, which often occurs before you realize you are pregnant. Without DHA, a baby's brain, spinal cord and eyes cannot develop properly (23), so it's vital that you get enough of the nutrient. Many moms-to-be struggle to get the DHA they need through diet alone, plus our bodies don’t make it, so you have to take it in.

For women, fish oil supplementation may help improve egg quality, delay ovarian aging, improve pregnancy rates, and support and improve fetal development. There are options for vegans, too. For men, omega-3 supplementation can improve sperm count, motility, and morphology.


Zinc:
Zinc is an essential mineral that is naturally found in meat, fish, and eggs. Getting appropriate levels of zinc is considered essential for male fertility since zinc works alongside folate in the synthesis of spermatic DNA. Studies show that low zinc levels are associated with low testosterone levels, and poor sperm quality (24).

Zinc supplementation has been shown to increase testosterone levels and sperm count in men with low zinc, especially important in highly active men (25).

 

Selenium:
Selenium is a trace element that is essential for many vital processes in the human body. In one 2011 study, selenium combined with vitamin E supplementation significantly improved several sperm measurements. Supplemental selenium and vitamin E may improve semen quality and have beneficial and protective effects, especially on sperm motility (26). Selenium deficiencies have also been shown to contribute to miscarriages along with nervous and immune systems issues as babies develop and low concentration of selenium in blood serum in the early stage of pregnancy has been proved to be a predictor of low birth weight of a newborn (27). 

 

Vitamin E:
Vitamin E has received much attention in recent years due to its ability to improve reproductive health and has been reported to exert beneficial effects as an antioxidant against reproductive disorders (28). Antioxidants like vitamin E protect against reactive oxygen species and have been associated with improved female fertility outcomes. 

Vitamin E is also recognized to have positive effects on male fertility. Recent studies have shown an increase in sperm motility for men who take vitamin E supplements (26), and additional research supports the protective and beneficial effects of vitamin E on semen quality.

 

Vitamin A:
Vitamin A is vital for normal vision, immune system health, and supports the heart, lungs, and other organs. Research has shown that vitamin A is also essential for reproduction in both males and females. Studies show that supplementing vitamin A can improve egg quality, ovarian response, implantation, embryonic development, and placental function (29).

 

CoQ10:
Coenzyme Q10 is a biomolecule naturally produced by the human body that functions as a potent antioxidant and also helps generate cellular energy. Levels generally start to decline in the 30s. CoQ10 supplementation has been shown to support the cardiovascular system, skin, lung, and neurological health, and even to help combat symptoms of diabetes and cancer.

Studies also suggest CoQ10 may improve both male and female fertility. Especially important for men, CoQ10 may help improve sperm count, motility, and overall male reproductive health. CoQ10 supplementation specifically helps infertile men suffering from poor sperm motility (30). 

 

Choline:
Choline is an essential nutrient vital for many body functions including support for cell growth, metabolism, liver, and muscle function. Fertility specialists are increasingly recognizing the importance of ensuring adequate levels of choline during pregnancy. Research has shown that choline plays several critical roles including tissue expansion, brain development, and neurotransmission. Sufficient intake of choline is critical for proper brain function and neurodevelopment (31). 


The body naturally produces choline, however the majority comes from diet. Surprisingly 91% of Americans don’t meet the daily recommended choline intake. Requirements are even higher during pregnancy with recommendations of 450 mg/day. Studies have shown that supplementing with additional choline may improve pregnancy outcomes and protect against some neural and metabolic impairments (32). It’s important to note that most fertility supplements don’t contain choline so be sure to check the label.

 

Iodine:
Iodine is a mineral that can be found in seafood or as a dietary supplement. It is an essential element of thyroid hormones, and it helps to control cell growth, repair damaged cells, and regulate a healthy metabolism. During early pregnancy, a developing baby is dependent on the mother’s thyroid hormones for normal brain development so iodine deficiency can lead to serious problems. Iodine levels may also contribute to your chance of getting pregnant. In one study, women with low Iodine levels had a 46% lower chance of achieving pregnancy per menstrual cycle compared to women with sufficient levels (33).

 

Iron:
Iron is an essential mineral for growth, development, and the production of hormones. Iron is used to make hemoglobin, a protein in red blood cells that carries oxygen to organs and tissues throughout the body, and myoglobin, a protein that provides oxygen to muscles. Women need extra iron during pregnancy to support extra blood volume. Experts believe that iron deficiency is related to babies being born undersized or prematurely. Research has also shown that iron levels are related to fertility. One study showed that women who consumed iron supplements had a significantly lower risk of ovulatory infertility compared to women who did not use iron supplements (34).

 

Specific Herbs:
Many herbs have nutrients that promote health as you pursue your fertility goals. These can contribute to your overall wellbeing to help your body function. Herbs you may look to during this journey can include: Ashwagandha Root, Ginkgo Biloba, Chasteberry, Saw Palmetto Extract, American Ginseng, and Maca.

 

Probiotics:
Another important preparation for pregnancy is caring for your gut. Through its Gut Microbe System, your digestive system influences your brain's function. Science has confirmed many moms-to-be experience brain fog, slight memory issues, and more. By adding probiotics, you can support a healthy gut-brain connection (35, 36). Plus, with probiotics, you’ll get the added benefits of promoting better digestion and supporting healthy regularity.

 

Supplementation for fertility and a healthy pregnancy

As you can see, there are many benefits to beginning your journey with the fertility boost of essential vitamins and nutrients. Supplements can provide nutritional support for your fertility goals, but they can’t do it all. Be sure to also include healthy foods in your diet, drink lots of water, and get as much sleep as possible…all of which sound obvious, but can be hard to do and are so important.

And remember, no two journeys are the same. Patience, mindfulness, and a bit of self love go a long way.


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