If there’s one time in your life when you want to be as healthy as you possibly can in every way—physically, mentally, and emotionally—it’s definitely when you’re pregnant or trying to conceive. Growing a baby (not to mention delivering and caring for one!) requires a ton of extra energy, plus high amounts of certain nutrients that are essential for both Mother and Baby’s health.
“When you’re trying to conceive or are pregnant, we want you in the best physical health possible, which can mostly be managed by changes to diet and lifestyle (think exercise, sleep, and stress management),” says fertility-focused naturopathic doctor Rachel Corradetti-Sargeant, N.D.
And while prenatal vitamins cover the basics by providing a plethora of key nutrients needed to maintain a healthy pregnancy, you might ultimately need even more of certain must-haves than they can provide, Corradetti-Sargeant explains.
So, whether you’re pregnant, trying to conceive, or simply looking to optimize your fertility for the future, here are a few all-important nutrients experts recommend focusing on—and how much of each to aim for.
Folate is perhaps one of the best-known nutrients pregnant people need. Even though this B vitamin (which is a must for reducing the risk of neural tube defects in a fetus) is a prenatal vitamin staple, some women require higher doses. “These populations include those who have experienced neural tube defects in previous pregnancies, those with metabolic disorders such as diabetes or obesity, and smokers,” notes Corradetti-Sargeant. Folate is particularly important for cell division that allows for proper neural development in the early stages of pregnancy, she adds.
Your best bet here is to talk to your care provider about how much folate you need based on any lifestyle or health factors. From there, Corradetti-Sargeant recommends opting for a prenatal or folate supplement that contains methylated folate, which will sometimes be listed as l-methylfolate or L-5-MTHF. “This form of folate is active and is best utilized by the body,” she says.
In addition to supporting the healthy balance of reproductive hormones that regulates ovulation in women, omega-3 fatty acids also support the development of a fetus’ eyes, brain, and central nervous system, says Toronto-based naturopathic doctor Olivia Rose, N.D.
She recommends getting 500 to 1,000 milligrams of omega-3s EPA and DHA per day to promote these important functions.
With an estimated 42 percent of Americans deficient, vitamin D is a major nutrient of concern in the U.S., according to the Cleveland Clinic—and that stands true for pregnant people. “Nearly every infertility patient I work with is deficient in vitamin D, so it is very important to have your vitamin D levels tested by your healthcare provider prior to trying to conceive,” warns Corradetti-Sergeant.
In addition to impacting fertility, D can also improve pregnancy outcomes. “Vitamin D deficiency increases the risk of miscarriage, preterm birth, gestational diabetes, and pre-eclampsia, so vitamin D is good for mom and baby,” says OB/GYN Jodie Horton, M.D., chief wellness advisor for Love Wellness.
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While a typical daily dose falls between 400 and 800 IU, she recommends checking with your healthcare provider about testing your levels and optimizing your intake. Since most people don’t get ample vitamin D from the sun and food alone, a high-quality supplement comes in handy here.
While there is still much to learn on the topic of the microbiome and reproductive health, Corradetti-Sargeant recommends adding a probiotic supplement to your preconception regimen and discussing with your doctor whether or not to stay on one during pregnancy. “The specific strains and doses do make a difference, so be sure to discuss this with your healthcare provider,” she says.
Lactobacillus strains, for example, seem to be especially important for uterine health, she notes. If you deal with urinary tract issues, yeast imbalances, or other reproductive health concerns, supporting your gut microbiome with probiotics may be particularly helpful.
Though you might not associate it with fertility, CoQ10 has gotten a lot of attention for its role in preconception health in recent years. In fact, early research suggests it plays a role in egg quality.
For this reason, Rose suggests adding a CoQ10 supplement to your routine for three months before conceiving—and aiming for anywhere between 300 and 800 milligrams per day.
N-Acetyl Cysteine (NAC)
NAC, a form of the amino acid cysteine that helps us produce the powerful antioxidant glutathione, can help the body develop a strong, healthy uterine lining, according to naturopath Ashley Margeson, N.D. The American Pregnancy Association also identifies it as a great way to support immune health during pregnancy.
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Margeson recommends getting 1,200 to 1,500 milligrams of NAC daily, starting before preconception and throughout pregnancy.
Choline, a nutrient found in beef, eggs, potatoes, chicken, and soy, is often overlooked amongst pregnant women—but it plays an important role in development, particularly of the fetus’ brain. In addition to supporting brain health, it also helps cells communicate with one another and aids in DNA synthesis (which is important for growth).
According to the National Institute of Health, pregnant and lactating women need 450 milligrams and 550 milligrams per day, respectively. Since most women report falling short, a supplement can help you meet your daily needs.