If you’re like most people, somewhere between the “let’s have a baby!” conversation and seeing those two pink lines, you’re going to end up researching prenatal vitamins. And trust us when we say you’re going to have a ton of options to wade through. We’re making things easy. Consider this your handy guide to the best prenatal vitamins for men and women in 2023, with all the things you need to know about when to start, which nutrients to prioritize, and how to know you’re getting exactly what you need to support your fertility and give that sweet baby the best start possible.
- Prenatal vitamins are a specialized blend of nutrients designed to support the reproductive processes in women and men.
- During pregnancy, prenatal vitamins are a source of nutrients babies need to grow.
- Not all prenatal vitamins are created equally, so it’s important to be clear on what you and your growing baby need.
- Experts recommend that men and women begin taking prenatal vitamins three to six months before conception.
- Couples should look for prenatal vitamins with specific nutrients to ensure they’re supplementing their nutrition properly.
What are prenatal vitamins?
Prenatal vitamins have come a long way since doctors began advising women to bump up their folic acid intake some 50 years ago. Today’s prenatal vitamin is a specialized blend of nutrients designed to supplement your nutrition to support your fertility health, your growing baby, and see you all the way through to the postpartum stage. And they aren’t just limited to women. We know that a man’s health in the three to four months prior to conception has a direct effect on his partner’s pregnancy and the lifelong health of their baby, and that the most common cause of deficiencies in a man’s health is a lack of specific nutrients. Prenatal vitamins for men include ingredients to support sperm health for a greater chance of a healthy conception and baby, and they’re an easy way to help men feel involved in preconception care.
But here’s the catch–not all prenatal vitamins are equal. Some aren’t manufactured in FDA-registered and cGMP-certified facilities, which means you’re taking a big risk in quality, purity, consistency, and overall product safety. Some use inferior ingredients, insufficient amounts, or skip important nutrients altogether (choline is a big one!). That means your prenatal vitamin may not be doing its one job of supporting your fertility health and your growing baby–and that’s a problem. For hopeful moms-to-be, a good prenatal vitamin delivers a steady stream of nutrients that promote egg quality and balance hormones, among other benefits. For dads-to-be, they have the specialized nutrition men need for optimal sperm health across all parameters:
- Sperm count: This describes the number or concentration of sperm cells in a given amount of semen. Normal semen has between 40 million to 300 million sperm per milliliter. A low sperm count is anything between 10 and 20 million sperm per milliliter. Low sperm count can be related to previous medical problems, age, and environmental factors. Lifestyle plays a part too–if you smoke or use recreational drugs, these habits can negatively affect your fertility.
- Sperm morphology: Normal sperm have egg-shaped heads and long tails, which are used to “swim” to the egg. The more normal-shaped sperm, the greater the likelihood they’ll reach the egg.
- Sperm motility: Sperm motility is measured as the percentage of moving sperm cells in a semen sample. Healthy sperm motility is defined as sperm with a forward progression of at least 25 micrometers per second.
- Testosterone levels and hormonal balance: The balance of hormones in a man’s body determines the success of his reproductive system. Male infertility can be diagnosed if the body doesn’t produce enough testosterone or gonadotropins, which includes follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) and luteinizing hormone (LH).
And for babies, prenatal vitamins are a source of critical nutrients that ensure proper neural tube development and reduce the risk of birth defects like cleft and lip palates, as well as some heart conditions. These nutrients are essential during the earliest stages of pregnancy, often well before women even know they’re pregnant. By beginning prenatal vitamins early, you’re covering your bases if you become pregnant quickly while also giving your body sufficient time to optimize your fertility.
How early should you begin to take prenatal vitamins?
Experts recommend beginning prenatal vitamins three to six months before you hope to conceive, for men and women alike. For women, starting prenatal vitamins well before conception can reduce the risk of miscarriage by providing all the nutrients maturing eggs need for the best quality. In men, this preconception window is a critical time to optimize and support sperm through the maturing process.
Starting prenatal vitamins early may also reduce symptoms of nausea and vomitng once you become pregnant – another reason to get started early.
What else do prenatal vitamins do?
You may be surprised by the long list of nutrients that growing babies need. And if you don’t know which foods you need to eat to get sufficient amounts of nutrients like magnesium, iodine, and chromium, you aren’t alone. But with a good prenatal vitamin, all of these nutritional bases are covered. That can be a lifesaver if you’re navigating morning sickness and finding it hard to keep food down or you’re craving less-than-nutritious options (pickles and ice cream, anyone?).
What nutrients should you look for in a prenatal vitamin?
Make sure to look for specific nutrients to ensure you and your baby are getting the very best start. Critical nutrients include:
- Vitamin C supports the development of your baby’s bones and teeth. For mamas-to-be, vitamin C supports immunity and aids in the absorption of iron. Since the body can’t store vitamin C, we need a steady supply.
- Vitamin B6 and B12 work together during specific points of the ovulation cycle.
- Vitamin D is necessary for proper calcium absorption, and deficiencies are a big deal. They’re associated with complications like preeclampsia, gestational diabetes, preterm delivery, postpartum depression, and a higher risk of miscarriage. In babies, insufficient vitamin D levels can be detrimental to healthy bone development and long-term health after delivery.
- Vitamin E helps protect both reproductive function and egg quality.
- Zinc helps support reproductive hormones.
- Vitamin K2 assists in the production of progesterone and estrogen and it’s particularly beneficial for women with PCOS.
- Folate is a bioavailable form of folic acid, which is a B vitamin. Every cell in the body uses this critical nutrient for healthy growth and development. Before and during pregnancy, it helps prevent neural tube defects. This nutrient is one of the reasons women hoping to conceive are advised to start prenatal vitamins before becoming pregnant.
- Choline rivals folate in terms of its importance during pregnancy. Adequate amounts in early pregnancy ensure proper spinal cord and brain development, as well as protection against neural tube defects.
- Chromium may help improve fertility in women with PCOS. It’s particularly important if you develop gestational diabetes during pregnancy.
- Magnesium aids in the growth and development of your baby before pregnancy and during the newborn stage. Research shows magnesium also has an impact on fetal programming and disease presentation in childhood or adulthood.
- Iodine supports thyroid hormones for both baby and baby, which assists normal brain and nervous system development.
For men, nutrients needs are centered around promoting sperm health. That includes:
- L-Carnitine, an amino acid derivative associated with higher fertilization rates and healthier sperm quality.
- L-Arginine, another amino acid pivotal for healthy sperm production and sperm motility.
- Coenzyme Q10, or CoQ10, a doctor-approved antioxidant that can support optimal sperm motility and has been shown to improve fertilization rates after just a few weeks.
- L-Taurine, an antioxidant that works throughout the body and plays an important role in sperm motility and morphology. Low levels of L-Taurine have been linked to male factor infertility.
- N-Acetyl-L-Cysteine, or NAC, is a semi-essential amino acid that supports multiple sperm parameters, including count, motility, and morphology.
Vitamins C, D3, E, B6, B12, methylated folate, zinc, and selenium can benefit male fertility as well.
What are the best prenatal vitamins for men and women in 2023?
When it comes to all the considerations we’ve laid out here–the right nutrients in the right amounts, high standards for purity, safety, and consistency as evidenced by production in cGMP and FDA-registered facilities, and third-party testing–two prenatal vitamins stand out.
Beli for Women
Beli for Women is one of just a handful of prenatals on the market meeting current recommendations from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the American Medical Association for choline, folate, iodine, magnesium, and vitamin D. But that’s not all.
- It’s based in the latest scientific research for fertility, prenatal, and postnatal health.
- It's designed for all five stages of pregnancy, from preconception through all three trimesters and during the postnatal period.
- It’s made with the cleanest, most potent, and most absorbable forms of vitamins and minerals, like methylated folate and vitamin D3.
- Each bottle includes a delightful minty essence that’s particularly gentle on your stomach.
- A serving size is a very doable three pills. And if you’re wondering how on earth we’ve managed that, read this!
Beli Vitality for Men
Beli Vitality for Men is a plant-based, vegan supplement formulated with a carefully calibrated blend of vitamins and nutrients to support male fertility before and during the biological transition to fatherhood. In addition to all of the nutrients we’ve called out above, it’s the only men’s prenatal vitamin made with Shilajit, an ancient Ayurvedic adaptogen that may help increase sperm count, motility, and serum testosterone in men who have been diagnosed with infertility. It’s also been linked to an increase in energy and endurance, improved athletic performance, improved concentration and brain health, and other benefits.
- Just like the women’s version, these prenatals are made with the highest-quality nutrients possible.
- They're based in the latest research in men's fertility health.
- For men switching from a multivitamin, the daily serving size of just two capsules can be a welcome surprise!
Both prenatal vitamins are made with non-GMO ingredients and free of glutens, allergens, and suspicious ingredients in general. These science-aligned prenatal vitamins are manufactured in cGMP and FDA-registered facilities in the United States, and they’ve also earned the Purity Award from the Clean Label Project.
There’s no question that women and men benefit from prenatal vitamins from the conception stage onward, but it can be overwhelming trying to differentiate good options from those that aren’t really doing their job. Understanding what to look for in a prenatal vitamin, including key ingredients and how it’s manufactured, is a great first step.