The role of a prenatal vitamin is to support the healthy growth and development of growing babies, and minimizing the risk of birth defects is front and center. Research is clear that adequate amounts of specific nutrients–folate and choline chief among them–play a significant role in helping to prevent major birth defects in the developing spine and brain, such as spina bifida and anencephaly. Of course, it’s not the nutrients alone that are important, but the forms and amounts they take. So let's get into specifics, shall we?
- Women hoping to become pregnant should get sufficient amounts of folate before and during pregnancy to support proper spinal and brain development.
- Men benefit from high-quality nutrients prior to conception to support and promote healthy sperm with fewer DNA abnormalities, which are associated with recurrent miscarriage in their partners.
- Experts advise couples to begin prenatal vitamins at least six months before conception to support fertility and lay the groundwork for a healthy pregnancy.
- Choline rivals folate for reducing the risk of spinal, brain, and neural tube defects, but it’s lacking in many major prenatal vitamin formulations.
- Vitamin D and iodine are often overlooked in sufficient amounts, despite their importance during pregnancy.
- Beyond prioritizing specific nutrients, it’s important to look for effective dosing and bioavailable forms to ensure absorption.
Folate & Choline
When it comes to minimizing the risk of birth defects, folate gets the most attention–for good reason! A daily dose of at least 600 mcg of this essential B vitamin during the preconception stage and in the earliest weeks of pregnancy helps support proper brain and spinal development, and the timing here is key. So much critical development happens in the earliest stages of pregnancy, often before women realize they’re pregnant, and ensuring that you’re building up the vitamin reserves means you can better protect your growing baby from day one.
That’s one of the reasons experts recommend couples planning to become pregnant begin prenatal vitamins early–ideally six months before conception. Doing so supports fertility in men and women, which increases the chances of a successful conception, pregnancy, and healthy baby. Key micronutrients during this timeframe can drive conception for men and women alike, so prenatal vitamins like Beli for Women and Beli Vitality for Men are an important part of a healthy lifestyle as you make plans to become pregnant.
While it’s not as well-known, choline rivals folate in terms of reducing the risk of birth defects in the brain, spinal cord, and neural tube. Data also suggests that it has a role in better brain and cognitive outcomes, from faster information processing speeds to improved visual memory and attention spans. In fact, research suggests that maternal choline intake affects a child’s linguistic ability up to age seven, and possibly even longer. One study found that low maternal choline intake of less than 290 mg per day doubles the risk of having a baby with a neural tube defect. And it’s not the kind of thing you can make up later. According to Dr. Taylor Wallace, America’s Favorite Food Scientist and an expert on choline, “subsequent repletion of a nutrient like choline outside of the first 1,000 days window may not compensate for the detriment due to nutrient deficiency or inadequacy."
Many of the most popular prenatal vitamins on the market don’t include sufficient amounts of choline, despite the importance this B vitamin plays. It was recognized as an essential nutrient in 1998 by the National Academy of Medicine, and experts recommend a daily amount of 450 mg before and during pregnancy, and 550 mg for nursing mothers.
Other Key Nutrients to Reduce the Risk of Birth Defects
Your needs (and your growing baby’s) don’t stop at folate and choline. Vitamin D is another biggie, and like choline, it’s often overlooked. According to the American Pregnancy Association, “It is unlikely your prenatal vitamin provides enough vitamin D. A recent study found women taking 4,000 IU of vitamin D daily had the greatest benefits in preventing preterm labor/births and infections.” And that’s not all–women with higher levels of vitamin D also have a four-fold increase in becoming pregnant following IVF.
Low amounts of vitamin D in the average prenatal vitamin really is a problem. Mamas and their babies need sufficient amounts of vitamin D, and specifically D3, which studies show is more effective for raising vitamin D levels. Babies need it for healthy bone development and long-term health birth, while mamas-to-be benefit with low levels of vitamin D have a higher risk of preeclampsia, gestational diabetes, preterm delivery, postpartum depression, and higher incidences of miscarriage.
Of course, you can’t really talk about vitamin D3 without mentioning vitamin K2, which is essential for proper D3 absorption. That’s another important nutrient to scan for on the label of your prenatal vitamin bottle, along with iodine. Iodine deficiency during pregnancy is directly tied to a number of major, irreversible issues, including an increased risk of pregnancy loss and infant mortality. In fact, inadequate amounts of iodine during pregnancy have been the most significant preventable cause of brain damage since the beginning of the 19th century. The recommended daily amount of pregnancy is 220 mcg, which increases to 270 mcg for nursing mamas. Many prenatal vitamins only include 125 to 150 mcg in a serving, so make sure you’re double checking that label.
Understanding The Bigger Picture
Of course, nutrients in a high-quality prenatal vitamin, like Beli for Women, aren’t included simply because they minimize the risk of birth defects. Our formula is carefully calibrated to include the vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that offer long-term benefits to moms and babies alike. And it’s not just the nutrients themselves that are important. It’s the amounts and forms of those nutrients that really move the needle. Effective dosing is key, and so is bioavailability.
Beli for Women is a research-based prenatal vitamin formulated with those considerations in mind. We followed the latest guidelines and recommendations to ensure that you and your growing baby are getting the right nutrients in the right amounts with the most efficacious amounts, with an emphasis on purity and quality. It’s why our vegan vitamin D3 is sourced from lichen instead of sheep’s wool or fish liver oil. It’s why we use folate instead of folic acid, and VitaCholine, widely regarded as the gold standard for this particular nutrient. And it’s why we use Ferrochel, a chelated version of iron that’s easier on the tummy, and zinc from Albion TRAACs. Bonus–using higher-quality nutrients in every instance actually makes for a smaller serving size!
Surprise–Men’s Prenatals Can Help Reduce Birth Defects Too
The value of prenatal vitamins for men is rapidly becoming mainstream, and it’s something we here at Beli have been pushing for since we introduced Beli Vitality for Men almost 5 years ago! After all, that’s how we got our start–filling the enormous gap in the market for a science-aligned men’s prenatal vitamin that would ensure optimal sperm health. It’s settled science that a man’s fertility health affects his partner’s risk of miscarriage. The DNA blueprint for the placenta, which nourishes a growing baby during pregnancy, comes from sperm. Oxidative damage to sperm DNA, or DNA fragmentation, can have a profound effect on a pregnancy’s viability.
Just look at the research. A 2019 study found that the sperm of men whose partners had experienced recurrent miscarriages had significantly higher levels of DNA damage than men whose partners carried a pregnancy to term. “Now we realise both partners contribute to recurrent miscarriage,” said lead author Dr. Channa Jayasena, “we can hopefully get a clearer picture of the problem and start to look for ways of ensuring more pregnancies result in a healthy baby.”
That’s where the right nutrients come in. For men, fertility health is all about sperm health. Science has made it clear that the most common cause of sperm deficiencies is a shortage of nutrients during the sperm maturation cycle, and that proper prenatal nutrition is associated with higher-quality sperm and fewer DNA abnormalities. That means prioritizing nutrients that have been clinically proven to support sperm health, such as:
- L-Carnitine, an amino acid derivative, to support motility.
- L-Arginine, an amino acid pivotal for healthy sperm production.
- Coenzyme Q10, or CoQ10, a doctor-approved antioxidant that can support optimal sperm motility and has been shown to improve fertilization rates in just weeks.
- L-Taurine, an antioxidant that plays an important role in sperm motility and morphology.
- N-Acetyl-L-Cysteine, or NAC, a semi-essential amino acid that supports sperm parameters, count, motility, and morphology.
- Shilajit, an ancient Ayurvedic adaptogen that may help increase sperm count, motility, and serum testosterone in men who have been diagnosed with infertility.
These six ingredients make up the Vitality Blend in Beli Vitality for Men, and we round out the formula with vitamins C, D3, E, B6, B12, methylated folate, zinc, and selenium, all of which benefit male fertility as well. And just like our women’s blend, the emphasis is on the right nutrients in the right forms and the right amounts, so that you know you’re getting exactly what you need to support your fertility for a successful conception, pregnancy, and baby.
The Bottom Line
When the plan is a baby, the last thing you and your partner should have to worry about is whether you’re getting all of the nutrients you both need, in the right amounts and most bioavailable forms, to minimize the risk of birth defects. And with Beli, we've got you covered.