Should You Take a Prenatal Vitamin While Trying to Conceive?
If you’re trying to get pregnant, you may have thought about starting to take a prenatal vitamin. Is it necessary? When’s the best time to start?
Generally speaking, the goal is to get the nutrients you need through food. However, with pregnancy the stakes are high and the nutrient needs are increased, so this can often be difficult to accomplish. Add morning sickness and strange cravings into the mix and it gets even more challenging. Hence why prenatal vitamins are widely recommended.
The biggest nutrient of concern during early pregnancy is folate, which is a B vitamin found in food. Folic acid, found in fortified foods and supplements, is the synthetic form of folate. This nutrient is required to make DNA and new cells, so it’s utilized a lot during pregnancy. Folate is extremely important in the first 4-6 weeks of pregnancy when the baby’s neural tubes are being formed. Having an inadequate amount increases the risk for neural tube defects including spina bifida. As much as 75% of neural tube defects may be prevented with adequate folate consumption either with food or supplementation.
So yes, taking a prenatal vitamin while trying to conceive is best practice. By the time you find out you are pregnant, the neural tubes may already be developed. If you are on a low carbohydrate diet, folic acid supplementation is especially important as these diets tend to be low in foods that contain both folate and folic acid. If for some reason you did not want to take a prenatal vitamin, you could choose to just take a folic acid supplement by itself. The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for folic acid is 400mg per day and 600mg during pregnancy, but some public health advocates recommend up to 800mg per day.
Ideally you would start taking prenatal vitamins 2-3 months prior to trying to conceive. This time allows you to build up stores of folic acid and other nutrients. It also gets you in the habit of taking them regularly so you have your routine down pat by the time you actually get pregnant. Also, prior to conception is a great time to see if you tolerate the supplement you chose. Supplements that contain iron are not always well tolerated by everyone and can cause constipation. To make things confusing, pregnancy can also cause constipation. So, if you wait until becoming pregnant to start taking them and are experiencing constipation, it would be unclear if you should try a different prenatal or not. Starting supplementation prior to getting pregnant gives you time to try different brands to avoid side effects.