Let's discuss micronutrients (Vitamins & Minerals) for optimal fertility. The idea of prenatal care encompasses moving the body towards optimal health because the healthier mom is, the healthier baby will be! The body needs about 6 months to prepare itself. This is simply because eggs, sperm and mom’s uterine habitat need this time to develop. Providing your body with the right micronutrients can help to support the building blocks to create a healthy and nourishing environment and minimize risk factors around miscarriage and birth defects.
While there is a laundry list of important micronutrients to ensure your body is receiving during prenatal care, there are a few key ones that have specifically shown to have a direct impact on fertility and ideally should be found in a good quality prenatal supplement. Prenatal multivitamins are tailored specifically to pregnancy, including but not limited to folate, calcium, vitamin D, iron and Omega 3's. It is important to keep in mind that everyone's requirements may be different depending on one's health history and present health conditions, which may increase the need for specific vitamins and/or minerals. Here is a general list of micronutrients to make sure is in your prenatal multi!
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This is the one that usually comes to mind when we think of prenatal care! Folate should be taken at least 3 months prior to conception as it assists in neural tube formation and normal cell division during the first few weeks of pregnancy. When taking a prenatal ensure that the folate is methylfolate (5-MTHF). This is the activated form of folic acid that women need. Food sources: lentils, pinto beans, asparagus, spinach, black beans, kidney beans.
2. VITAMIN B12
Vitamin B12 is often overlooked in prenatal care but it is extremely important. It is known to decline throughout gestation, so keeping levels optimal is key. Vitamin B12 is important for DNA production and low maternal levels of Vitamin B12 have been associated with a 3-fold increase in neural tube defects. Be sure to get tested before supplementing. Ideally, B12 levels should be above 200pmol/L. Food sources: clams, oysters, liver, eggs and beef.
Iron is the most common nutritional deficiency in women. Maternal iron requirements increase in pregnancy because of the demands of the developing fetus, formation of the placenta and increased red blood cell mass. Maternal blood supply can increase up to 30% in the first trimester so extra iron is needed to build haemoglobin. Fetal iron requirements can come at the expense of maternal stores if intake is insufficient. Low iron during pregnancy is associated with increased premature delivery and low birth weight. Again, it is important to get tested and only supplement if you are deficient. Ideally, ferritin should be above 40 ug/L in women. When looking at iron supplementation, look for iron citrate or bisglycinate which are better absorbed and cause less G.I concerns. Food sources: Lentils, spinach, sesame seeds, and kidney beans.
4. VITAMIN D
Vitamin D is concentrated in the uterine lining and plays an important role in accepting the baby (foreign) into the environment. Vitamin D has been well established to improve health outcomes in pregnancy. It is a great antioxidant, helps to improve calcium absorption, which is needed for fetal skeletal development and helps to support the production of estrogen. Again, it is better to get tested before supplementing at higher levels. Food sources: eggs, fatty fish, cod liver oil
Calcium is important for baby’s skeletal growth and cardiovascular health. If mom does not get enough calcium in the diet, the baby will get it straight from mom’s bones! Food Sources: Broccoli, cabbage, nuts, tofu, soybeans, kale.
Zinc is a cofactor to nearly 100 enzymes! Stress, pollution, oral contraceptives and cigarette smoking deplete it. A zinc deficiency can lead to a higher incidence of premature deliveries. Note that zinc picolinate is the preferred form of zinc. If you have taken OCP’s in the past this is one mineral to make sure is in your prenatal! Food sources: pumpkin seeds, legumes, lentils, tahini, meat.
7. ESSENTIAL FATTY ACIDS
Omega 3 fatty acids (EPA & DHA) have an anti-inflammatory effect on the body, ESPECIALLY in the uterus! They help to increase blood flow to the uterus, assist in brain development in the fetus, regulate hormone production in the body and increase cervical mucus. It is especially important for fetal brain growth in the last trimester of pregnancy. Low levels of DHA have been linked to low birth weight and postnatal depression. Food sources: flax seeds, walnuts, salmon, sardines, chia seeds.
A good quality prenatal multivitamin should have all of the above-mentioned micronutrients (and more!) in the preferred dose and best absorbable form. Prenatal care involves starting good nutritional habits before the baby is born. It is about being more conscious of everything you are feeding your body. This is what helps to establish healthy habits that can be carried into pregnancy and increases the overall health of both mom and baby, enhances fertility and reduces complications during pregnancy.
Written By: Dr. Saira Kassam, ND 2018
The advice in this article is for informational purposes only. It does not replace the care of a Naturopathic physician.
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