Ideally, all women who are planning for pregnancy should have a preconception check-up to make sure they are in good health and have all the information they need to get their pregnancy off to a good start. However, if that is not possible, it is important to know which supplements and medications you should take when trying to conceive.
A very important fact: all of these should be taken at least one month before trying to conceive, as so much important development happens before that pregnancy test shows up positive.
1. Prenatal vitamins—Prenatal vitamins are formulated specifically for women who are trying to conceive or are already pregnant or breastfeeding. They have multiple vitamins and minerals that are at dosages considered safe for women in these categories. Even in women with very healthy diets, certain nutrients may not be present in adequate amounts. Over-the-counter vitamins are just as good as prescription ones, so you do not need to wait for your doctor or midwife to call in a prescription for you.
2. Folic acid—Folic acid is a nutrient that is essential in the development of the fetal neural tube, which leads to the development of baby’s brain and spinal cord. We know that women who do not ingest adequate amounts of folic acid are at an increased risk for birth defects collectively known as neural tube defects. Since the majority of the neural tube is developed before 4 weeks of pregnancy (which is before a woman would know she is pregnant), supplementing while trying to conceive is the best way to guarantee a woman is not deficient.
The recommended dose for most women is 400 micrograms/day, which is found in most prenatal vitamins. Women rarely get enough folic acid from their diet alone, despite foods like cereals being fortified with this nutrient. Some women who are high risk (such as those who have a seizure disorder or have had a baby with a neural tube defect before) need more folic acid, and they should consult with their doctor or midwife before getting pregnant.
3. Omega-3 fatty acids—Healthy omega-3 fatty acids are essential for the development of baby’s brain, eyes, and central nervous system. DHA and EPA are felt to be the most beneficial of the omega-3s, and pregnant or lactating women should aim to ingest approximately 300mg daily. The best source for these fatty acids are from fish. If you do not like to eat fish, you can take a supplement. A fish oil supplement is considered superior to plant-based ones. Be sure to make sure that your supplement is from a reputable brand that tests for mercury.
4. Iron—Iron helps to make the extra blood volume that a pregnant woman needs, and this helps her to more efficiently deliver oxygen to her baby. Low iron levels can lead to anemia, or low red blood cell counts, which can cause some pregnancy complications. For many women, eating iron-rich foods (such as red meat, spinach, and beans) and taking a prenatal vitamin will supply enough iron in her diet. However, some women may need an additional supplement if they are found to be anemic. This can be detected by a simple blood test. To be proactive, be sure to eat iron-rich foods and take that prenatal vitamin when trying to conceive to prevent this problem.
Reviewed by Dr. Jen Lincoln, April 2020
- It is important to take a prenatal vitamin with folic acid approximately one month before trying to conceive.
- Low folic acid levels can lead to a group of birth defects known as neural tube defects.
- Iron-rich foods and taking a prenatal vitamin can help prevent certain types of anemia.