After many hours of discussion with my husband, and finally getting up the nerve, when it was time to tell my OB-GYN that we were ready to start trying to conceive, the first thing they mentioned was that I should start taking prenatal vitamins. My first thought was, “Well, I’m not pregnant, so why the heck should I take prenatal vitamins while trying to conceive?” Not that I didn’t trust my OB-GYN, but I had never heard that before. And as someone who has Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS), which has the potential to make it harder for me to conceive, I was curious if taking the prenatal vitamins would help with my fertility, or at the very least, speed up the process.
Professor and head of reproductive endocrinology and infertility at the University of Alabama, Dr. Peter Rizk from Fairhaven Health says, "While most women recognize the need to take a prenatal vitamin during pregnancy, there are many benefits to taking it prior as well." In an email to Romper, Rizk mentioned several benefits to taking a prenatal vitamin while trying to conceive, and broke down each vitamin component and their impacts.
"In addition to supporting embryo development and cellular growth, vitamin A can also help in maintaining a healthy reproductive cycle," he says. Vitamins C and E "are important antioxidants that help prevent cellular damage due to oxidizing free radicals, and with respect to fertility, vitamin E has also been shown to promote egg quality. Vitamin C has been demonstrated to have a positive impact on IVF outcomes."
Rizk also notes that folic acid or folate, which are also found in prenatal vitamins, support fetal development in addition to being an important antioxidant that fights cell damage. As a side note, Rizk says, "Folic acid is actually a synthetic format of vitamin B9, and some research shows this synthetic form not being metabolized well by some women. Ideally, a prenatal vitamin containing folate is preferable." Iodine, another component, is necessary for the production of thyroid hormones, and low counts can negatively impact fertility, Rizk notes. And lastly? "Zinc has been shown to support healthy ovulation and menstrual cycle regularity."
And here I thought you were just supposed to take zinc to fight off a cold.
"There are a host of other specific ingredients that have been shown to help improve fertility, hence the reason we always recommend taking a prenatal vitamin even before pregnancy," Rizk says. "For those women with irregular cycles or conditions such as PCOS, they may want to consider a comprehensive fertility supplement that contains complete prenatal vitamin formulas, plus further ingredients to help support reproductive health."
As for any risks you might face when taking a prenatal vitamin when trying to conceive, they’re minimal, and nothing you can’t check with your doctor about before you start taking them.
Echoing what Rizk said, in an email to Romper, Lea Von Bidder, co-founder and CEO of the medical technology group Ava, says when taking prenatal vitamins, "the only thing to be aware of is if you have the MTHFR mutation. With this genetic mutation, it's important to take folate rather than folic acid." Bidder notes that some women aren’t even aware that they have the mutation, and if you’re really concerned about it, you could just take a folate vitamin instead of folic acid.
She also doesn’t believe that prenatal vitamins increase your fertility unless you have some kind of known fertility defect and are taking a certain vitamin regimen to address it. "Even then, the evidence for most of these vitamin regimens is spotty," she says.
For the most part, it certainly doesn’t hurt to take prenatal vitamins while trying to conceive. And when you’ve been trying for a while, you’ll take all the help you can get, right? Plus, there’s nothing wrong with getting the additional vitamins and nutrients the prenatal vitamin provides, even if it’s not directly helping your fertility. If you're unsure which prenatal vitamin to take or if it can help, talk to your OB-GYN about your trying to conceive plans.