If you're the type of person who's proactive about your health—and you're strongly considering a baby—then you've probably spent some time Googling supplements that will help enhance fertility or that will ensure you're stocked up on the nutrients your baby needs to thrive. But often, these searches result in ultra-long lists of somewhat obscure-sounding nutrients, leaving you wondering: Do I really need all of these? The answer: Everyone's different, but you probably don't need to start popping 10 different pills if you're planning to get pregnant.
Here, we consulted fertility and women's health experts about the supplements that are appropriate for most women looking to conceive in the near future, plus tips on the most fertility-friendly diet. (Remember, it's always smart to talk with your doctor before incorporating a new supplement into your routine, especially if you're pregnant or trying to become pregnant.)
First, consider what you're eating.
We can't talk about supplements without first talking about food. That's because popping a pill won't do the maximum amount of good if your overall diet is junk. The good news: Most women don't need to completely overhaul their diets to optimize fertility.
"Women who are considering pregnancy don't need a special diet per se, but ensuring that the diet is rich in antioxidants, colorful, and minimally processed is the ideal goal. If a woman is generally in good health, then that should be enough," says Wendie Trubow, M.D., functional medicine gynecologist.
A good approach: forgoing highly processed carbs and eating an anti-inflammatory Mediterranean-style diet, as several large studies have shown that this way of eating is associated with enhanced fertility. "Even among women undergoing IVF, when you're essentially overriding their normal hormones, there was an increased rate of conception among women who were eating a Mediterranean diet," says Victoria Maizes, M.D., executive director of the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine and author of Be Fruitful: The Essential Guide to Maximizing Fertility and Giving Birth to a Healthy Child.
If you wouldn't describe your current health as "great," you may want to take your dietary changes a step further. "Some patients who have polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) or autoimmune issues could benefit from a paleo or elimination diet, but that's individually based," says Bindiya Gandhi, M.D., functional family medicine physician.
Supplements to consider if you're trying to conceive.
While supplement recommendations are never one-size-fits all, the following supplements are widely considered safe and likely beneficial if you're looking to get pregnant in the near future:
Prenatal vitamin with methylated folate
At minimum, our experts agree that you're going to want to take a quality prenatal vitamin containing nutrients essential for proper fetus development, including folate, DHA, and vitamin D—even if your diet is on point. The key thing to look for: a prenatal containing methylated folate, as opposed to folic acid. "Folate is responsible for the prevention of neural tube defects, but about 30 to 40 percent of the population has one or two mutations in the MTHFR gene, which makes it harder to convert folic acid to its active form of folate," says Trubow. For a prenatal containing methylated folate, try New Chapter Perfect Prenatal or Thorne Basic Prenatal.
Omega 3 (DHA/EPA)
DHA and EPA, two omega-3 fatty acids found in fatty fish and fish oil supplements, are extremely important for nervous system and brain development of babies (in fact, 60 percent of the human brain is made up of DHA), as well as for maintaining a stable mood, says Gandhi. Omega-3 deficiency can also increase your risk of depression, which could potentially put you at greater risk for postpartum mood disorders. Some prenatal vitamins contain DHA and/or EPA, but if yours doesn't, try Nordic Naturals Prenatal DHA, which has been third-party tested for purity. And if you're avoiding animal products, try Garden of Life Minami Algae Omega-3 Vegan DHA.
Most prenatal vitamins only contain about 400 IU of vitamin D, but that may not be enough during pregnancy—especially since many women are deficient and don't even know it. "Vitamin D3 is crucial for supporting healthy bone development of the fetus and can be safely taken at 2,000 to 5,000 IUs daily," says Trubow. It's also important for you, as it helps decrease inflammation, improve sleep, and manage stress and anxiety, all of which are pretty important leading up to and during pregnancy, says Gandhi. Try Nordic Naturals Pro Vitamin D3, which contains extra-virgin olive oil as the carrier oil, or Thorne Vitamin D 1,000 IU.
While probiotics aren't essential, using them to bolster your gut health prior to conceiving may help alleviate digestive issues like constipation and diarrhea that are common during pregnancy, and using them during pregnancy may help prevent eczema and allergies in your baby, says Gandhi. Research also shows that women who changed their diet and incorporated a probiotic were less likely to be diagnosed with gestational diabetes than women who changed their diet alone. Try Garden of Life Dr. Formulated Probiotics Prenatal Daily Care 20 Billion CFU.
For men: a high-quality multivitamin
Guys' nutritional status matters, too! According to Maizes, studies in men show that the intake of antioxidant vitamins (e.g., vitamin C, vitamin E, beta-carotene, CoQ10) increase rates of pregnancy by about four times. "A lot of the abnormal sperm we're seeing seems to be in part due to oxidative stress, so increasing antioxidants would be helpful," she says. The problem: About 80 percent of men don't get the recommended five servings a day of fruits and vegetables, which are the chief dietary source of antioxidants in the diet. So, if your partner's diet is less than stellar, they can at least start taking a high-quality men's multivitamin like this Garden of Life Organic Men's Multi or this Rainbow Light Men's Multivitamin made with fruits, vegetables, and probiotics.
Who might need additional supplementation?
If you're dealing with a specific health condition (e.g., hypothyroidism, PCOS, an autoimmune disease), it's really important to talk with your doctor to ensure that the supplements above are appropriate and to ask if additional supplements may be necessary. Depending on your specific situation, your doctor might recommend nutrients such as CoQ10, melatonin, and DHEA, says Gandhi, "but again, less is more and it's better to individualize care than taking things your body may or may not need. I don't like to supplement blindly without checking labs and levels."
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Stephanie Eckelkamp is a writer and editor who has been working for leading health publications for the past 10 years. She received her B.S. in journalism from Syracuse University with a minor in nutrition. In addition to contributing to mindbodygreen, she has written for Women's Health, Prevention, and Health. She is also a certified holistic health coach through the Institute for Integrative Nutrition. She has a passion for natural, toxin-free living, particularly when it comes to managing issues like anxiety and chronic Lyme disease (read about how she personally overcame Lyme disease here).