Choosing the right prenatal is critical when it comes to preparing for pregnancy. Yet, it can be daunting and extremely confusing to know what to look for and who you can trust in an unregulated industry.
There are a lot of prenatal supplements on the market, and not all prenatals are created equal. Choosing between all of the options can be overwhelming and a waste of money if you choose poor quality.
Today, I am breaking down what makes the best prenatal supplement and my top recommendation for you—it could be the missing key to achieving pregnancy and optimal health for you and your future growing family.
Can You Get All of the Fertility Nutrients You Need From Food?
Did you know that most people are deficient in several key nutrients? Even with a perfect diet, the combination of many things—including our depleted soils, the storage and transportation of our food, and the increased stress and nutritional demands resulting from a toxic environment—make it impossible for us to get all the vitamins and minerals we need solely from the foods we eat. Additionally, most Americans have a chronic disease and take multiple medications, which can interfere with nutrient absorption.
A wealth of data shows that your diet can contribute to getting (and staying) pregnant (1). And while many factors contribute to fertility challenges, optimizing your nutrient status can profoundly impact conception rates, pregnancy outcomes, miscarriage, and even the health of your future baby for decades to come.
This is why I believe it’s a non-negotiable to supplement with a high-quality prenatal to make up for the nutrients we can no longer get through food alone, especially during the months leading up to conception.
What Are Prenatals and Why Do They Matter?
Prenatals are unique formulations of nutrients that go above and beyond multivitamins. They are formulated to optimize fertility and can completely transform egg quality, improve sperm health, support hormones, and build nutrient reserves to increase the chances of a healthy pregnancy and baby.
Optimal nutrition before and during pregnancy is linked to better brain development, healthy birth weight, reduced risk of pregnancy complications, sending genetic messages that can be passed down multiple generations, and so much more (2).
Unfortunately, most pregnant women are not meeting key nutrient levels, which puts their health and the health of their future baby at risk (3).
When Should You Take a Prenatal?
Most prenatals are designed to support all phases of reproduction: preconception, pregnancy, and even post-birth.
It’s never too soon to start taking a prenatal. In fact, research shows that it’s best to start at least 3-6 months before conceiving (4). We call this timeframe “preconception,” when your child’s DNA is being set up for success—where many future health issues could take root.
In addition to helping support reproductive health, promoting healthy pregnancy outcomes, helping to build nutrient stores, and improving egg and sperm quality before pregnancy, prenatal supplements contain nutrients to keep mom and baby healthy and strong during pregnancy as nutrition demands increase.
Staying on a comprehensive prenatal post-birth is also critical. For breastfeeding moms, prenatals help support the ongoing demand for nutrients and the development of the baby’s brain and immune system. And for non-breastfeeding moms, prenatals help replenish nutrients prioritized towards the baby during pregnancy. For all moms, taking a prenatal for at least six months after your baby arrives also helps prevent nutrient deficiencies, helps with wound healing, provides mood support, and creates a health insurance policy for future pregnancies (5).
Should Men Take Prenatal Vitamin Supplements Too?
YES! Prenatal health is no longer considered just the woman’s job. It’s now understood, and proven by science, that men account for 50% of infertility (6). A man’s lifestyle can affect sperm health, and sperm health can affect pregnancy outcomes and the health of future children and even grandchildren.
Getting enough vitamins and minerals with antioxidant properties is one of the best ways to protect against sperm damage before trying to get pregnant. Taking therapeutic levels of specific antioxidants can help prevent further damage from occurring and neutralize some of the damage that has already occurred.
Antioxidants, including selenium, vitamins A, C, E, CoQ10, and N-Acetyl-L-Cysteine (NAC) can neutralize and reverse oxidative stress, a main driver of sperm dysfunction and male infertility. One study showed that antioxidants could increase male fertility four-fold and the chance of a successful pregnancy by up to five times (7).
What Should You Look for in a Prenatal?
When looking for a prenatal, there are many factors to consider, but here are some that stand out as the most important:
- Contains Iron: Iron is a big deal for moms-to-be (needs double during pregnancy), yet many women’s prenatals fall short or don’t contain the most bioavailable form. Look for one that contains ferrochel iron. Ferrochel Iron is a patented chelated form of non-heme iron that passes through the stomach and small intestine without breaking apart, which makes it more effectively absorbed than other types of iron without deactivating or blocking the absorption of other nutrients (8).
- Contains Folate—not Folic Acid: Up to 60% of the population has a variation to their MTHFR gene, making it difficult to process the synthetic form of folate, known as folic acid. This can make supplements that contain the synthetic form dangerous for people with this variation. Women need folate for healthy ovulation and egg development. Folate can help prevent miscarriages, spinal cord injuries, and fetal brain injuries (9). Look for a prenatal that contains folate (might also be listed as L-methylfolate, L-5-MTHF, or 5-methyl-folate).
- Contains Enough Vitamin D and Choline: Choline is one of the most important vitamins for a baby’s brain. Unfortunately, not all prenatals contain choline or contain too little. Look for at least 400mg of choline (10). Vitamin D is needed for calcium absorption for both mom and baby, which helps improve sperm motility and reduces the risk of miscarriage, pre-eclampsia, gestational diabetes, low birth weight, preterm birth, and more. The average prenatal contains only 800-2,000IU. Look for 4,000IU for women and 2,000IU for men (11).
- Contain Enough Antioxidants: Antioxidants like vitamins A, C, E, selenium, manganese, and acetyl L-carnitine protect against oxidative stress, reduce risk of pregnancy loss, pre-eclampsia, low birth weight, and support proper fetal development (12). Look for prenatals that contain these nutrients.
What Should You be Wary of When Choosing a Prenatal?
Supplements in the US are not regulated. That means that many are not tested for purity, efficacy, label claims, or even ingredient integrity. That’s why it’s very important to buy third-party tested supplements. Third-party lab testing is when an outside organization evaluates, tests, and certifies the nutritional values and contents of the product. It’s like an unbiased voucher for quality.
It’s equally important to consider what’s not in a prenatal as what is included. Look for a prenatal that is non-GMO and free of synthetic fillers, artificial colors, and major allergens like gluten, dairy, soy, and nuts. And it’s even better if they test each batch for microbiological/bacterial contamination and heavy metals.
The #1 Prenatal Brand I Recommend:
WeNatal makes my top recommend prenatal vitamin for women and men. They have thought of everything when it comes to optimizing prenatal, pregnancy, and postnatal nutrition. In addition to having an all-star lineup of bioavailable ingredients in research-backed doses, they understand the importance of including men in the fertility equation.
- 100% Clean Formula: no synthetic dyes, fillers, preservatives, or artificial ingredients.
- Right Nutrients, Right Dose. Research-Backed, Clinically Tested: formulated with key, hard-to-find nutrients, including folate and choline, in the most bioavailable form.
- Just Three Pills Daily: nutrient density of 6 to 8 pills packed into just 3 a day.
- Attention to Men’s Health: unique formula to promote fertility for the other half of the equation.
- The only Supplement with a Holistic Approach: supporting mind and body with effective tools like the WeNatal Journal.
Click here to learn more about my top recommended prenatal vitamin.
Pre-pregnancy nutrition for both men and women should be the most important focus for the long-term health of your future baby. It’s never too soon to start!
Wishing you health and happiness and a very healthy baby,
Mark Hyman, MD