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5 Critical Nutrients In Your Pre-Pregnancy Vitamins
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5 Critical Nutrients In Your Pre-Pregnancy Vitamins

As you start to think about growing your family, you prepare yourself mentally and emotionally for the challenges of pregnancy and parenthood. But it’s also important to prepare yourself physically to support a healthy pregnancy.

An overall healthy, balanced diet can help you get the nutrients your body needs, but preconception vitamins can help you fill in any gaps.* You’ve probably heard about the importance of folate before pregnancy, but there are several other critical nutrients to look for in your fertility supplements. Along with folate, your fertility vitamins should also contain a healthy dose of vitamin D, iodine, choline, and iron.*

Learn more about five nutrients your pre-pregnancy vitamins should contain and how these nutrients help support your body before pregnancy and beyond.*

1. Folate

The term “folate” refers to:

  • Folate in food. This form of folate occurs naturally in foods like leafy green vegetables, beans, peanuts, and oranges.
  • Folic acid. This is the synthetic form of folate found in many supplements and added to foods like grains and cereals.
  • Methylated folate. This is the active form of folate (the form your body can use) found in some supplements. Folate from food and folic acid are also converted into this form within your body so they can be used for essential functions.*

Folate is essential for many processes in the body.* It is particularly important for women during their childbearing years and is necessary for neural tube formation during the earliest weeks of pregnancy.*

How much folate do you need during pregnancy? 

The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for folate is is 400 mcg dietary folate equivalents (DFE) before pregnancy and 600 mcg DFE during pregnancy. During the earliest weeks of pregnancy, this nutrient helps support healthy neural tube development. Healthful diets with adequate folate may reduce a woman’s risk of having a child with a brain or spinal cord birth defect.*

How can you get enough folate? 

Folate is naturally found in leafy green vegetables, fruit, dried beans, peas, and nuts. These are great foods to include in your pre-pregnancy diet. However, naturally occurring folate in food is not as well absorbed as folic acid or methylated folate, so it may be difficult for some to rely solely on natural food sources of folate to meet their needs.

Fortified foods can help. In 1998, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) started to require food manufacturers to add folic acid to certain food products that do not naturally contain folate. These foods include enriched bread, flour, cornmeal, rice, pasta, and other grain products.

In addition to natural food sources of folate and fortified foods, most healthcare providers recommend taking a high-quality pre-pregnancy vitamin with at least 400 mcg of folate to ensure you get enough of this essential nutrient.*

2. Vitamin D

Healthy vitamin D levels in the blood may promote fertility and a healthy pregnancy.* However, many women have difficulty achieving a healthy vitamin D level. There are not many vitamin D-rich foods available, so it’s hard to get enough vitamin D through your diet alone. Your body can also make vitamin D from the sun, but healthcare providers recommend limiting sun exposure and wearing sunscreen to protect your skin from UV rays. Additionally, women with darker skin have more melanin, which reduces the skin’s ability to produce vitamin D from sunlight. It’s easy to see how many women fall short when it comes to vitamin D.

How much vitamin D do you need during pregnancy? 

Most reproductive health professionals believe that maintaining a healthy vitamin D level during pregnancy is critical.* Although the RDA for vitamin D is 15 mcg (600 IU), most experts agree that the amount needed to achieve healthy vitamin D levels is much higher. Research shows that daily doses of 50-100 mcg (2,000 to 4,000 IU) of vitamin D3 before and during pregnancy are safe and can help women achieve healthy vitamin D blood levels.*

How can you maintain healthy vitamin D levels? 

Most experts suggest achieving and maintaining a vitamin D blood level of at least 30 ng/mL to support fertility.* Women with vitamin D levels above 30 ng/mL during preconception also tend to have healthier pregnancies.*

Between food, the sun, and supplements, you have three ways to help you meet your vitamin D needs – take advantage of all of them. Choose plenty of vitamin D-rich foods, like salmon, milk, and eggs, get plenty of safe sun exposure, and consider getting your vitamin D level tested to find out if you would benefit from a high-quality vitamin D supplement.

3. Iodine

Folate and vitamin D are pretty well-known, but you may be less familiar with iodine.

How much iodine do you need during pregnancy? 

The RDA for iodine is 150 mcg before pregnancy, and it increases to 220 mcg during pregnancy. Both you and your baby need enough iodine to support thyroid function, as well as healthy brain development.*

How can you get enough iodine? 

Iodine is a mineral, and the amount of iodine in your food typically depends on the level of iodine in soil and water. Seaweed, fish, and shellfish are reliable sources of this important nutrient. Dairy products are often rich sources of iodine, too, but the amount varies depending on the iodine content of the cow’s diet. Because it can be difficult to get enough iodine through diet alone, the American Thyroid Association (ATA) recommends that women who are trying to become pregnant, already pregnant, or breastfeeding take a supplement that includes 150 mcg of iodine each day.

4. Iron

Iron becomes increasingly important during the later stages of pregnancy, but it’s still important for fertility, too.* Iron helps produce red blood cells and maintain healthy muscle and connective tissue.* As pregnancy progresses, your body uses iron to make more blood to deliver oxygen and nutrients to your developing baby.*

How much iron do you need during pregnancy? 

Before pregnancy, you need about 18 mg of iron per day. During pregnancy, your requirements increase to 27 mg of iron daily.

How can you get enough iron? 

Animal sources of iron are better absorbed – lean meat, seafood, and poultry are great options. If you’re vegetarian or don’t eat meat often, plant-based sources of iron include fortified grain products, beans, lentils, and spinach. Keep in mind that if you rely solely on plant-based iron sources, you need about 1.7 times the RDA to meet your needs. Luckily, a pre-pregnancy vitamin that contains iron can help.

5. Choline

Choline is a vitamin-like compound that your body needs for cell membrane signaling, lipid transport, and many other body functions.* Along with folate, choline is essential during pregnancy for healthy neural tube and brain development.*

How much choline do you need during pregnancy? 

The RDA for choline is 425 mg before pregnancy and 450 mg during pregnancy. Despite choline’s importance, few women get enough in their diet. The American Medical Association supports the addition of choline to all prenatal vitamins. Most prenatal vitamins do not contain any choline because it is difficult to put into a tablet or softgel.

How can you get enough choline? 

Include choline-rich foods, such as egg yolks, fish, chicken, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts, and consider a high-quality prenatal vitamin with adequate choline to help you meet your needs.

When you’re thinking about getting pregnant, nutrition is key. Focus on filling your diet with foods rich in important pre-pregnancy nutrients, including folate, vitamin D, iodine, iron, and choline, and add a high-quality preconception supplement to fill in any gaps.

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