14 November 2017
There are a number of vitamins and minerals that are important for people trying for a baby. These ‘micronutrients’ are only needed in small quantities, but if levels are not high enough in potential parents, this could affect their ability to get pregnant, their pregnancy health or the health of their future child.
The best way for a person to get most of the vitamins and minerals they need is by eating a healthy well-balanced diet. But when people are trying for a baby some micronutrient supplements are also recommended. These are the vitamins and minerals that are important one to three months before a baby is conceived.
Folic acid is a B-group vitamin which is essential for the healthy development of a baby’s neural tube, the structure that forms the brain and spinal cord during pregnancy. It is difficult for women to get enough folate from their diet. Therefore, women trying to have a baby can supplement their diet with 500 micrograms folic acid daily from at least one month before conception and during the first two months of pregnancy. It is estimated that this prevents seven out of ten cases of neural tube defects such as spina bifida.
The thyroid is a gland in the neck that uses iodine to produce thyroid hormone. Thyroid hormone is needed for the baby’s brain development. To support the development of the baby’s brain and nervous system women trying for a baby can supplement their diet with 150 micrograms of iodine per day.
During pregnancy vitamin D helps with the transfer of calcium to the growing baby. Calcium is needed for the growth and development of the baby including their bones and teeth. Most of the vitamin D we need comes from sun exposure. Vitamin D supplementation during pregnancy is not generally recommended unless a woman has vitamin D deficiency. The risk of vitamin D deficiency is higher among women who have dark skin, are veiled, use block-out sunscreen, or take anti-epilepsy medication. It is also important to balance the risk of too much sun exposure and maintaining adequate vitamin D levels. Sensible sun protection does not put people at risk of vitamin D deficiency.
Zinc and Selenium
High levels of so called ‘free radicals’ in the body can pose health risks. Micronutrients such as zinc and selenium can reduce the damaging effects of free radicals. Studies among infertile men have found that taking zinc and selenium up to the recommended daily intake can reduce damage to sperm caused by free radicals and improve sperm quality. Whether this improves their chance of fathering a child is not yet known but it may be a good idea for men who want to be fathers to boost their zinc and selenium intake. The easiest way to do this is through a healthy diet but there are also supplements that can be bought over the counter. Before conception, the recommended dose of zinc for women is 8000 micrograms and 14000 micrograms for men per day. The recommended dose of selenium is 60 micrograms for women and 70 micrograms for men.
As this is general information, it is recommended that you talk to your healthcare professional about your requirements for vitamins and minerals.
For more information about pre-conception health visit www.yourfertility.org.au