Supplements during pre-conception and pregnancy

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I’ve gotten so many emails about the supplements I am taking during pregnancy and took before conception that I decided to write a post. It seems a lot of people are having trouble finding the right prenatals they are happy with. I’ll also place this post under the Preconception and Pregnancy Resources at the top of the page.

Speaking of those pages, few of you might know that these two pages (PRE-CONCEPTION RESOURCES AND PREGNANCY RESOURCES) is where I have placed links to more informative posts I was writing as I was going through preparations for TTC and pregnancy and will continue updating them. They are articles, posts and links to things I found useful while preparing to conceive and during pregnancy, as well as what I did during the pre-TTC period and pregnancy recaps, along with helpful products and books. If you’re TTC or pregnant, go check it out, you might find a few useful things there.


Note: I am not here to give medical advice. All the information in this post and on this blog is my personal opinion derived from many books and studies I have found. You need to use your own situation and resources to decide if what is right for you.

When we first decided to TTC and started preparing our bodies for the first month of trying to conceive, I did a little bit of research as to what vitamins we could take to make our bodies healthy and strong in preparation for pregnancy. At that point, pretty much any prenatal supplement would do the job. However, knowing that many vitamins and minerals do have a toxicity level, my goal was to find a prenatal supplement that didn’t have mega doses of certain vitamins. Some prenatals LOVE jamming 500% or more of vitamins into the pill, and not only is it unnecessary, but could be very dangerous when it comes to pregnancy.

TTC Supplement

So my initial pre-TTC prenatal supplement was from Solgar Prenatal Nutrients. It has a perfect amount of vitamins/minerals, without exceeding 100% of RDA,except for Iron (which is supposed to be higher for pregnant women anyways) and Vit. C ( which doesn’t really have a toxicity level) (view the supplement label here)

It’s important to go into pregnancy with adequate stores of iron, which sets you up not to be deficient later and you also need 200% of regular DV of folic acid which is 800mg. It’s extremely important to take folic acid supplements prior to conception as the neural tube develops in the first 30 days of pregnancy (before most women know they are pregnant) and supplementing folic acid can prevent many cases of neural tube defects.

For your man:

Get him a zinc and selenium supplement which helps sperm health and production. A standard one a day men’s pill like one below should do just fine

DHA supplement

Taking DHA or eating fatty fish (such as salmon, sardines and herring) is going to help with your baby’s brain development once you get pregnant. I started with an algae based vegetarian DHA from Solgar. I liked the idea of not having to deal with mercury and dioxins from fish based supplements. Soon I realized it wasn’t enough DHA (only 200mg) and to get it to the recommended 1g, I’d have to take 5 pills a day, which would become very costly. That’s where the Environmental Defense Fund website came in handy with their Fish Oil Supplement Guide and after checking out a bunch of DHA brands, I decided that I really liked Nordic Naturals (I had read good things about them before as well). It has a nice strawberry taste, contains 1g of DHA in it and it’s really well refined, so you don’t have to worry about mercury and dioxins.

So that’s where I was during the pre-conception stage….

Then pregnancy came and with it, came a lot of new reading and researching.

I found out that as little as 3/4 of Daily Value of vitamin E has been linked with heart defects. My OB tipped me off about that when I ran my prenatals past him but the prenatal he offered that had 50% of vitamin E was flawed in other areas. The worst part is that ingesting more than 3/4 of the recommended amount of vitamin E (from food AND supplements) BEFORE and DURING pregnancy increased the risk of heart abnormalities in babies 9 fold (according to the study published in the British Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology). You just CAN’T WIN, can you? Keep in mind that some DHA supplements use vitamin E as a preservative so count that in too (it’ll list it on the label).

So I decided that the only way to truly do a good job with my prenatals is to “build my own”. Rather than take 2 massive pills, I decided to buy all separate supplements.

Most people’s diets get sufficient amounts of some vitamins and minerals. Everyone’s diet is different, therefore everyone’s needs are different. In order NOT to have to take literally up to 25 different pills a day, I set out to figure out what my diet is deficient in and only supplement those plus some. After tracking my food intake for a week or so using NutritionData, I figured out that as a {mostly} vegetarian eater, I was perfect on all vitamins except B, and all minerals except iron and zinc. I actually continued tracking my food intake and vitamins and attempting to get all of my 100% of RDA from foods, but anything I was deficient that day I could always pop a supplement for, without throwing the rest out of wack.

So I assume most of you aren’t going to want to go to the extent of tracking your food intake and some of you might not have time for it, so I’ll try to break it down as easily as I can.

If you’re mainly a vegetable/fruit/grain eater, you’ll need the same supplementation as me. If you tend to eat fewer vegetables and more meat products, you need to check your A,C,K, folate consumption.

Here is my supplement breakdown:

{ Morning: 500mg of Calcium + 1000 mg DHA. (links are to the actual supplements I take) }

Calcium needed supplementation just in case ( I did eat enough dairy to meet my RDA, but I’d like to keep my teeth and bones when I am done making babies, so I wanted to be sure). It needs to be taken at a different time of the day than iron, since it interferes with iron absoption (which is hard to absorb as it is). In addition to that, only 500mg of calcium can be absorbed at a time, so if you want to supplement more, you need to break it down into 500mg servings over the day. Make sure your brand comes with vitamin D for better absorption as well.

is almost always deficient in most people, unless you literally eat fatty fish daily, and with every child your DHA stores dimish, so it’s even more important to supplement in subsequent pregnancies. There’s been a study in nursing women that showed that taking as much as 2-4 grams of DHA increased their child’s intelligence accordingly, so the supplementation doesn’t stop with pregnancy, but continues into breastfeeding and beyond. If you’re formula feeding, it’s trickier, since not all formula companies care to add DHA, however it’s possible to find one that does have a good amount of DHA (don’t be fooled by the marketing ploy of adding a negligent amount of DHA and stating “source of DHA” on the can)

{ Evening: Vit. C+Iron+Zinc+Copper+B complex+Folic Acid (links are to the actual supplements I take) }

Vitamin C – besides it being harder to overdose on, vitamin C is just a good vitamin to supplement. In my case, the reason for supplementation was that Iron is better absorbed if taken with vitamin C. You can accomplish the same thing if you take your iron with orange juice or eat a grapefruit. The challenge is to find a pill that doesn’t give you 1000% of vitamin C. So I break mine into two and take half the amount (250mg) at one time. Most fruit/vegetable eaters don’t need supplementation unless they want better iron absorption.

Iron – this one really doesn’t need explanation. Unless you eat A LOT OF iron rich foods, you probably need supplementation at one point of the pregnancy or the other. I used Gentle Iron from Solgar from the beginning and I haven’t had much trouble with it making me sick or constipated (like some iron supplements do). Don’t take it close to a calcium rich meal or with your calcium supplement. It inhibits absorption. Iron is the reason I take all these pills in the evening, because I figured if I were to get sick from it, I’d be fast asleep by the time it hits me and I won’t notice it as much 🙂 So the evening time just stayed.

Zinc and Copper- I don’t actually need copper supplement on daily basis, however the rule of thumb is to supplement copper if you supplement zinc and visa versa. They are in a very finicky balance in our system and supplementing one without the other can throw the whole balance off. Unless you know you eat plenty of copper, I wouldn’t supplement zinc without it. Since these two tend to come in 200% dv form, I break them in two as well.

B vitamins Complex – this pill complex includes all B vitamins in no more than 100% DV, plus 400mg of folic acid. Since I don’t eat meat, or drink too much dairy, I need supplementation. If you’re a meat eater, you might not. This one from Sundowns was the best one I found.

Folic Acid – this one is a must from day “MINUS 30” of pregnancy. The RDA for pregnant women is 800mg. Since I get 400 mg from my B complex, I only need to supplement an additional 400mg.

So that’s where I am at right now. I guess once I start breastfeeding, I’ll have to review the breakdown of vitamins necessary for breastfeeding and adjust accordingly.

Hope this helps a few of you who ran into the same trouble with prenatals as I did, but haven’t had a chance to email me.

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  • Reply
    January 18, 2012 at 10:47 PM

    Elena, this was really helpful! I have had a difficult time finding DHA so I have been buying DHA-enriched milk. Do you know any pros/cons about that?

    Also, thanks for the heads-up on the Vitamin E. I just checked my prenatal vitamin and it has 37% of the DV… and I usually eat up to 3 servings of spinach a day- which is also high in Vitamin E. Looks like I am in the market for some different vitamins.

    Are there other vitamins that are harmful in high amounts? I believe that you warned me (via twitter) of excessive Vitamin A.

    Also, I am so excited that you’re reaching the end- can’t wait to see Alexis and hear about the birth!

    • Reply
      Elena @The Art of Making a Baby
      January 18, 2012 at 11:28 PM

      DHA milk(as well as DHA eggs) does work but I am almost sure it doesn’t have the amount you need. You need 1-1.4 grams of DHA (1000-1400 mg) as a pregnant woman. I haven’t found a way to get that amount in anything but certain fatty fishes or supplements.

      As far as vitamin E, 37% is actually not miserable ( surprised you found a prenatal with such a low amount), but if you eat lotsa foods rich in vit E, you might want to do smth about it.

      As far as toxicity levels of vitamins, you know about A and E. D has an upper limit. Almost all fat soluble vitamins do. Google vitamin toxicity level for pregnancy, you’ll get the numbers.
      Otherwise I wouldn’t take more than 2500mg of calcium.
      Good luck 🙂

  • Reply
    January 18, 2012 at 11:15 PM

    As a nutrition student and a former health store manager, this in very well written. Good job Elena. 🙂

    I was very diligent about my suppliments, esp EFA’s, and I can say with confidence that they contributed largely to my son’s development and intelligence. I will not say he’s gifted by any means, but he is incredibly smart, his problem solving skills are pretty advanced for his age. Just sayin…proud Mama 🙂

  • Reply
    January 19, 2012 at 12:25 PM

    What my husband always tells me is that the best supplement is no supplement at all, and it sounds like you do a great job of getting nutrients from natural sources and not just supplements. Have you done much research on synthetic vitamin/mineral supplements vs. whole food supplements? Many of the products you show in this post are synthetic ~ you may want to check out this website: – I take their “D sufficiency” and their “Organic Sufficiency” (daily multivitamin – label info here:, currently not in stock on their website, as they apparently are experiencing a shortage of some of the organically grown foods they use to make them… should be available soon, although they do look like they’re available here: To my knowledge, this is the only line of 100% USDA certified organic vitamin supplements available that are made solely from whole foods. Lots of info for a comment, but worth checking out! 🙂 We have been taking these for a year now, and love them. I will have to supplement with foods high in folate or find a folate supplement that is derived from whole foods to add to these vitamins when we get closer to starting a family.

    • Reply
      Elena @The Art of Making a Baby
      January 19, 2012 at 12:35 PM

      This is really helpful advice! I haven’t even thought about synthetic vs whole food ones. There’s so much to think about, sometimes things slip by. I’ll definitely check it out. I do know certain vitamins are jsut fine in a synthetic form ( like folic acid), but of course I’d rather take whole food supplements if there’s such an option. Thanks for the link!

  • Reply
    January 19, 2012 at 3:49 PM

    Oh, that’s some really amazing, helpful and informative post! 🙂

  • Reply
    January 21, 2012 at 7:12 PM

    Actually, you CAN overdose on Vitamin C. The UL (upper limit) is 2,000mg per day. Overdose can cause gastrointestinal upset, aggravate ulcers, & cause kidney stones.

    • Reply
      Elena @The Art of Making a Baby
      January 21, 2012 at 7:16 PM

      Did I say you can’t overdose? I think you can overdose on anything…it’s just harder to overdose on certain vitamins. I read the upper limit was 2500mg/day. But I think you need more to truly overdose, don’t you?

      • Reply
        January 21, 2012 at 7:27 PM

        You say: “So my initial pre-TTC prenatal supplement was from Solgar Prenatal Nutrients. It has a perfect amount of vitamins/minerals, without exceeding 100% of RDA,except for Iron (which is supposed to be higher for pregnant women anyways) and Vit. C —>( which doesn’t really have a toxicity level)<—–"

        Overdose = toxicity. Bad things can happen when you take too much Vitamin C. Things like Airborne have 1000mg of Vitamin C, & there are people that take those things like candy, thinking more must be better. It isn't true, & could be dangerous.

        • Reply
          Elena @The Art of Making a Baby
          January 21, 2012 at 7:35 PM

          Yeah I saw that too and changed it. Thanks for pointing it out. Sometimes I get caught up in what I consider common sense ( such as, YOU SHOULDN’T TAKE 1000% of RDA of something, unless you want to harm yourself )

          • Meredith
            January 21, 2012 at 11:02 PM

            (It doesn’t show as changed on my end… did you save/update the post on your end?)

  • Reply
    January 23, 2012 at 3:09 PM

    Elena, what methods did you use to try for a girl?

    • Reply
      Elena @The Art of Making a Baby
      January 23, 2012 at 3:17 PM

      Shettles method. The only thing we did based on his method is timing really. We stopped having sex 2.5 days before the day my O was supposed to happen.

  • Reply
    Kacie Morrison
    September 9, 2013 at 3:18 PM

    Did you take the recommended 4 pills a day? Wouldn’t that put you over your limit?

    My husband and I just started TTC and I’m realizing there is so much I don’t know or understand. :/

    • Reply
      Elena @The Art of Making a Baby
      September 23, 2013 at 3:08 PM

      I don’t believe what exactly I was taking at that time. I think it was 1 or 2 grams. Now I take 4 grams, while breastfeeding a day

  • Reply
    Heather Novak
    February 3, 2015 at 1:19 PM

    It is actually extremely important to take a whole-food based prenatal instead of a synthetic one. Check out Mega Food Baby and Me or New Chapter Organics Prenatal. Synthetic vitamins can actually be dangerous and cause issues when the nutrients are not in balance as nature intended. Also, if your pee is yellow you are just wasting your money. Americans have the most expensive pee on the planet lol. I agree with also taking an omega 3 (I use Omega 3 Zen), a mineral supplement (again a food-based one such as the body ecology diet ones), and a vitamin D3, but everything else is in your (whole-food organic) prenatal and diet. Also, watch out bc studies show that there is a “sweet spot” with vitamin C and fertility. You don’t want to take too much (I forget the exact number but if anyone wants I would be happy to look at my references and send you the info!). Preconception health is SUPER important – so THANK YOU for this blog!!

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