The most critical period for micronutrient (vitamin and minerals) in pregnancy are the early weeks, long before most women know they are pregnant!
Preconception supplementation ensures there are sufficient stores of micronutrients in your body to meet the demands of a developing foetus for these early weeks.
Continuing supplementation throughout pregnancy helps meet the physiological requirements that food may not be able to achieve.
Here are the key nutrients to look for in your prenatal multivitamin:
Some prenatal multivitamins contain different or "active" forms of vitamin B9 and folic acid. Let me clarify their differences first.
Folic acid is the synthetic form of vitamin B9, found only in supplements.
Folate refers to natural B9, found in foods and our blood.
Follinic acid is a natural form of B9. It is found in some prenatal multivitamins.
Methylenetetrahydrofolate and levomefolic acid are biologically active forms of folate, meaning they don't have to "activated" in the body to affect.
It’s important to note that there are no studies on methylenetetrahydrofolate and levomefolic acid in the prevention of neural tube defects (NTD).1 What we do know about both these “active folate’s” is that they can increase blood concertation of folate much quicker than folic acid, making them suitable quicker folate repletion.
Researchers have noted that what is most important is having plasma folate concentration higher than 16nmol/L (or red blood cell folate >906 nmol/L) to protect against NTD rather than the actual simple dose of folic acid.1
There is around ~10-22% of the European population that has a polymorphism that prevents them from effectively converting folic acid to methylenetetrahydrofolate, known as the MTHFR mutation.1 These individuals tend to have less of a response to folic acid supplementation, potentially predisposing them to NTD, lip and palate deformations, and in some instance’s miscarriage.
If you are unsure what form of folate suits you, a simple blood test to check plasma folate concentrations, homocysteine, and if indicated, screening for the MTHFR polymorphism can be helpful.
Ok, so now let's talk about why folate is essential and how much you need.
Folate assists in DNA synthesis (production of new DNA) and blood production. Insufficient intake of folate during the preconception period and the first trimester is associated with a higher risk NTD.
Research has shown that women with optimal serum folate status what better assisted reproductive outcomes.2 It is recommended that all women of reproductive age consume 600 mcg/day of folate or folic acid.
The tolerable upper intake of folic acid (synthetic) is 1mg (1000 mcg) per day. Methylenetetrahydrofolate, on the other hand, has no upper intake level, though it is more expensive.
Recommendation: Ensure your multivitamin contains 400 mcg folic acid (or activated methylenetetrahydrofolate form equivalent). Plus, be sure to include another further 200 mcg/ day folate-rich foods. Folate rich foods include green leafy vegetables, beans, and lentils.
Choline plays a pivotal role in spinal cord formation, placental function, and early brain development. As a methylating nutrient, it is arguably just as important as folic acid.
There is emerging evidence that the current recommendation of 440 mg per day is insufficient and that most pregnant women would benefit from additional choline supplementation. Up to ~1000, mg per day would be more optimal for supporting pregnancy outcomes, and that high gestational choline intake is correlated with the improved cognitive function of offspring. 3
Most multivitamins will typically contain up to 100mg per capsule of choline.
Recommendation: You will be hard-pressed to find a multi with more than 100mg of choline. You may need to supplement with additional choline or optimise your diet to meet the higher "optimal" dose closer to ~900 mg/day, as suggested in recent literature.
Dietary iodine is required for the synthesis of thyroid hormones that regulate the mother's metabolic rate and promote growth and development throughout the pregnancy. Iodine is especially critical for early foetal brain development in pregnancy, and mild to moderate deficiency may lead to neurological and cognitive impairment of the infant.4
Recommendation: The recommended daily intake for iodine for both preconception and pregnancy is 250 mcg/day. 150 mcg /day from your prenatal multivitamin plus an additional 100 mcg coming from iodine-rich food including seafood, seaweed, and fortified eggs.5
Vitamin B12 supports DNA synthesis and methylation. It promotes healthy blood production in the mother and is required for neurological function in both the mother and the infant.
Research has shown that women with optimal B12 status what better assisted reproductive outcomes.2
Vitamin B12 and folic acid should always be taken together as they both mask the deficiency of each other.1