Becoming a mother is a big decision, and with it comes big responsibilities like thinking about how to get ready for pregnancy, birth, and parenting. In order to best prepare your body for the huge changes that are involved with growing a baby, it is important to make sure you are healthy and providing the proper nutrients to give yourself and your baby the best chance for an optimal pregnancy and birth. Your health and nutrition can have an impact on your body’s ability to have a successful pregnancy by boosting your fertility and lowering risks for birth defects.
What Nutrients Do I Need?
When you are trying to conceive, there are several key nutrients your body needs. Many of these nutrients affect early fetal development, even before you may realize that you are pregnant, so it is best to ensure that you are getting adequate intake of these nutrients from the preconception period.
Folate is a B vitamin that plays a key role during pregnancy for both mother and baby and has been linked most notably to its ability to reduce risks of neural tube (brain and spinal cord) defects. It is especially important because the baby’s neural tube starts forming in the first months of pregnancy, before you may even realize you are pregnant. You may have heard “folic acid” and “folate” used interchangeably, but there’s a clear distinction between these 2 forms of B vitamin. Folate, or L-methylfolate, is the activated bioavailable form, while folic acid is a synthetic form.
Previous research has found that folic acid supplementation helps to decrease the risk of neural tube defects in the fetus, but there are recent findings that a large number of people have genetic mutations that do not allow for the proper conversion of folic acid to its active form (De-Regil, 2010). It’s estimated that 40 to 60% of the population has this mutation, and therefore, it is best to take the bioavailable folate form that is easier for your body to metabolize (Greenberg, 2011). A study comparing prenatal supplements with different forms of the B vitamin also found that pregnant women taking supplements containing folate rather than those containing folic acid had higher hemoglobin levels (Bentley, 2011).
When choosing a prenatal multivitamin to take, look for one that contains folate rather than folic acid like our Mother Nutrient prenatal supplement (containing 800 mcg folate) that helps you achieve well above the recommended daily allowance of 400 mcg. Food sources that are high in folate include dark leafy greens, liver, eggs, avocados, and nuts and seeds.
Iron is an incredibly important nutrient for those who are trying to become pregnant. During pregnancy, your need for iron increases by about 50% to support the growth of the placenta, the baby, and the increased production of red blood cells and plasma volume (Erdman, 2012, Scholl, 2005). In order to prepare for this sudden increase in need (CDC recommends 27mg RDA for pregnant women vs 18mg RDA for non-pregnant women), it is important to ensure your intake of iron is adequate in the preconception period, especially as it plays a key role in fetal development.
Iron deficiency is a common risk to women in their reproductive years due to blood loss from menstruation and the lack of iron-rich diets to compensate. In fact, one study found that 9 to 11% of women of childbearing age have iron deficiency in the U.S., and those who are minorities, low-income, and have multiple pregnancies are the most at risk (Looker, 1997). Iron deficiency during preconception and pregnancy has been linked to low birth weight, increased risk of premature birth, and neurodevelopmental delays for the baby, so checking your iron levels during the preconception period is important (Ronnenberg, 2004).
While supplementation is possible, the best source of iron is in foods, especially animal products that contain the most absorbable heme iron such as organ meats (liver, heart), oysters, beef, clams, lamb, poultry, and sardines. Other sources include legumes and dark leafy greens. Consuming these iron-rich foods with vitamin C, or cooking in a cast-iron pan are additional ways to enhance iron absorption.
Consuming organ meats doesn’t sound appealing to everyone, which is why Mother Nutrient offers desiccated grass-fed beef liver capsules that deliver all the nutrition benefits of beef liver without the taste, as well as a chewable iron chelate that is non-constipating and offers a high 30mg dose.
Docosahexaenoic acid, or DHA, plays a fundamental role in the development of your baby’s brain, vision, and central nervous system during pregnancy. Considering that babies’ brains are predominantly made up of fat (about 60%), their brains’ development is highly dependant on our intake of essential fatty acids, cholesterol, choline, and omega-3 fatty acids like DHA (Nichols, 2018). As pregnancy progresses, your DHA stores are transferred to the baby, which can lead to DHA depletion (Kuipers, 2011). DHA deficiency has been linked to pregnancy complications like preterm labor, hypertension, as well as risks for other negative health outcomes for both mother and baby after birth (Olsen, 2002, Williams, 1995).
The current recommended intake for pregnant and lactating women is at least 200 mg of DHA per day, but for those trying to conceive, I would recommend achieving closer to 300 mg, in addition to 180 to 300mg of EPA per day (Koletzko, 2007).
The best source of DHA is cold-water fatty fish like salmon, sardines, trout or herring (3 oz of cooked wild Atlantic salmon contains 1240mg of DHA), but you can also get DHA from grass-fed meat, eggs, seafood, and dairy fats like ghee and butter, but in less concentrated amounts.
Those who want to avoid taking a fish oil supplement can opt for algae oil instead. Mother Nutrient offers a high-quality Omega-3 DHA & EPA supplement that offers 288 mg DHA and 432 mg EPA and is sustainably-sourced from sardine, anchovy, and mackerel.
4. Vitamin D
Considering most of the U.S. population is already deficient in vitamin D, exposure to sunlight alone is probably not enough to prevent vitamin D deficiency during preconception and pregnancy.
Vitamin D is important to prevent pregnancy complications like pre-eclampsia, gestational diabetes, preterm birth, and small-for-gestational-age births, and first-trimester miscarriage (Bodnar, 2007, Wei, 2013, Andersen, 2015).
Although the current recommended daily amount is set at 600 IU, studies indicate that these levels are too low and that mothers and their babies can benefit from higher intake amounts, as high as 4,000-6,400 IU (Hollis, 2011 & 2015). Recent studies found that those who had sufficient vitamin D levels during the preconception period were more likely to become pregnant and have fewer miscarriages compared to those who were deficient (Mumford, 2018). In order to prevent complications during pregnancy and beyond, I recommend all mothers trying to conceive to have their vitamin D levels checked.
Mother Nutrient offers the perfect vitamin D3+K2 supplement with 5,000 IU of vitamin D3 per capsule, which is the more potent and long lasting, bioactive form of vitamin D that our bodies naturally produce when exposed to sunlight. We also offer a liquid vitamin D3 that comes with a convenient 1mL dropper and includes MCT (coconut) oil for better absorption.
Many people are unfamiliar with this very important and essential nutrient. Choline is essential for the normal function of all cells, and is known to play an important role in fetal brain development, placental function, as well as reducing risks of neural tube defects (Erdman, 2012, Shaw, 2004).
During pregnancy, large amounts of choline are transferred through the placenta to your baby, depleting your own stores, which is why your need for daily choline intake increases from 425 mg pre-pregnancy to 450 mg (Zeisel, 2006). Choline concentrations in the amniotic fluid reach several-fold higher amounts compared to maternal blood levels, and choline is also transferred through breast milk after birth, increasing your need to 550 mg during lactation (Ozarda, 2002). However, over 90% of the U.S. population and 95% of pregnant women fail to meet the recommended daily intakes, which suggests that women who are trying to conceive, and who are pregnant and lactating, are at an even higher risk for choline deficiency (Wallace, 2016, Brunst, 2014). Since most prenatal vitamins do not include choline, I believe that most women can benefit from increasing the intake of choline-rich foods in their diet from the preconception period.
The richest sources of choline are eggs and liver. 2 large eggs (with yolk) provide about 250 mg, which is over 50% of a woman’s daily needs. Other rich sources include grass-fed meat, poultry, seafood, cauliflower, nuts, and legumes (USDA). For those who don’t consume eggs or meat, it is most likely you will need to take a choline supplement like choline bitrate or lecithin. Luckily, Mother Nutrient offers a prenatal supplement that includes the key nutrients for a pregnant woman, including choline.
Probiotics have many benefits for both mom and baby, so it's never too early to start taking them. Aside from encouraging the growth of good bacteria in your gut to improve gut function and relieve digestive issues that you may experience during pregnancy and postpartum, they can also lower risks of gestational diabetes and pregnancy complications like preterm birth and preeclampsia, and improve skin conditions like eczema and psoriasis (Nichols, 2018). A study that compared mothers who took a probiotic starting at 36 weeks pregnant and throughout lactation with mothers who took a placebo, found that those who took the probiotic, produced milk with double the amount of immune-boosting compounds compared to the control group. The babies from the probiotic group reported less cases of colic, spit-up and a 27% reduction in eczema.
You can get probiotics from fermented foods and drinks like sauerkraut, kimchee, miso, yogurt, tempeh, kefir, and kombucha. For additional support, you can also take a high potency multi-strain probiotic like our Women's Probiotic, which has a high 40 billion CFU.
A note on birth control
Many people don’t know about this, but birth control pills can negatively impact your gut flora. They create an imbalance in your gut called dysbiosis: as the good bacteria dies, it leaves room for bad bacteria to flourish, leading to all kinds of issues like yeast infections, a suppressed immune system, leaky gut, digestive problems, and more. Usually, the longer you take birth control, the more damage it can cause to your microbiome, so if you've taken birth control for more than 3 months, I typically recommend a healthy dose of probiotics to help nourish your gut and restore the bacterial balance.
Birth control also depletes your body of B-vitamins, which are crucial for energy production and for making a baby. If you took birth control, it's best to take a methylated B-Vitamin complex to ensure your levels are at an optimal level. I recommend this one.
Prepare and nourish your body
The preconception period is a great time to focus on your body’s overall wellness, including making small adjustments in your diet to nourish your body, taking prenatal supplements, achieving a healthy weight, as well as consulting with professionals to address pre-existing health concerns.
Taking these steps before you become pregnant will optimize your body for the best possible outcome and help reduce known risks from nutritional deficiencies. In fact, it’s recommended to start taking prenatals as early as 6 months prior to trying to conceive to ensure you have healthy and good quality eggs, reduce risks of complications, and prevent nutritional deficiencies. No one can eat a perfect diet everyday, so taking a prenatal ensures that you are giving yourself a nutritional boost and peace of mind.
At Mother Nutrient, we are here to support you in whatever stage of motherhood you are in, whether it’s preconception, pregnancy, or years after giving birth. We understand the challenges of getting all of your nutritional needs from diet alone, which is why we offer a variety of nutraceutical supplements, probiotics, and superfoods to help!
Our prenatal/postnatal with nursing support supplement contains all of the essential nutrients that can be hard to find in traditional multivitamins. Find them all in our shop, and also sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date on the latest nutritional advice, blog posts, and product deals!
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Are you trying to conceive? Have you made any nutritional changes during this period? Tell me in the comments!
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