Popping a prenatal vitamin is often one of the first things a woman does when a couple decide to start trying for a baby. Many women understand the importance of taking in adequate nutrients, like folic acid, to reduce the risk of birth defects and support Mom and Baby's overall health. But what about Dad? He is responsible for 50 percent of the baby's genetics, so does it make sense for him to pop a prenatal, too? With the focus of fertility and pregnancy outcomes shifting from just the woman's responsibility to understanding that it takes two to tango and that men play a large role in the story of conception, it is no wonder that male prenatal vitamins are appearing in social media ads and on drugstore shelves. But do men really need a prenatal vitamin too? POPSUGAR spoke to two experts to get their takes.
What Is a Male Prenatal Vitamin?
Just like a traditional prenatal vitamin, a male prenatal vitamin is formulated to support a man's sperm health to, in turn, support a healthy pregnancy. Often, they are a multivitamins of a sort. Instead of providing a slew of vitamins and minerals, like iodine, riboflavin, and magnesium, the supplement contains higher doses of nutrients and antioxidants, like selenium, zinc, vitamin C, and vitamin E, that are targeted to support men's sperm.
Why Would a Man Consider Taking a Prenatal Vitamin?
Researchers are finding that a man's health and nutrition can play a role in his fertility and in his future baby's health. Taking in the right amount of nutrients before pregnancy for both men and women can play a positive role in the growth, development, and long-term health of their future babies, according to data published in The Lancet, a peer-reviewed medical journal. In fact, during the preconception period (typically defined as three months before "trying") of both men and women, lifestyle choices like smoking and poor diet can negatively influence certain long-term cardiovascular, immune, and brain-function risks for their future babies, according to a different article published in the same journal.
Adequate levels of certain nutrients for your fella may also play a role in your pregnancy outcomes. Data published in 2019 suggests that, for couples who were undergoing IVF, a man's higher dietary folate intake was associated with slightly longer pregnancy for the female partner — which is a good thing! The results suggest that "preconception care should shift from a woman-centric to a couple-based approach." So loading up on folate-rich foods like avocados and certain nuts is a great way for a dad-to-be to support his partner's pregnancy even before she's pregnant. Other dietary factors of the man can play a role in pregnancy outcomes. For example, data has suggested that men who are considered obese take a longer time to get a woman pregnant and have babies who are at higher risk of developing obesity as well.
Bottom line, a healthy man — and healthy sperm — at the time of conception may play a role in a healthier pregnancy and healthier kiddos. But do supplements have as much of an impact as diet management and other factors?
Do Male Prenatal Vitamins Really Work?
This is not an easy question to answer. Dietary antioxidants (found in foods like fruits, veggies, and walnuts) have been shown to support increased live-birth and clinical-pregnancy rates. However, a study evaluating 61 studies where men took antioxidant supplements found no evidence of increased live-birth rate. Other data suggests that antioxidant supplements can effectively improve fertility measures and live-birth rate in infertile men. Supplements with most evidence supporting their use for men during the preconception time include vitamin E, vitamin C, CoQ10, L-carnitine, and zinc, although more randomized controlled trials are needed, according to a study published in Urology. "I do think there is value in taking a male prenatal vitamin when a couple is trying to conceive," explained Brittany Scanniello, RD, a registered dietitian based out of Colorado. "There is little downside to adding a male prenatal to a preconception plan. It may actually help a couple get pregnant, or result in better outcomes for the pregnancy and/or the baby."
What Should a Couple Look For in a Male Prenatal Vitamin?
With so many options available on the market, Scanniello provided some guidelines for what she looks for when considering a male prenatal vitamin:
- The brand must be third-party verified, meaning its supplements should be evaluated by an independent organisation, like NSF or USP.
- The supplement should provide at least 200 milligrams of CoQ10, if that nutrient is included.
- The supplement should not contain herbal remedies that may negatively affect fertility, like St. John's wort.
- The supplement should not contain fillers or unnecessary ingredients, like sugars, corn maltodextrin, artificial colours, or hydrogenated oils.
- The supplement should list the quantities of each ingredient. Some supplements include "proprietary blends" in their ingredient list and do not include the exact doses of certain nutrients. There is no way to know if the correct quantity of each ingredient is being provided unless it is listed on the label.
"My go-to has been NutraVerve male prenatal vitamins," Scanniello explained. Men should plan on taking a supplement for at least three months in order to see any effect. This is because the process of spermatogenesis (development of sperm cells) takes on average 64 days. Men should take the supplement for enough time for it to play a role in sperm health.
Carly Fenimore, MS, RD, LDN, owner of Fertility RD, LLC, a virtual private practice based in Charlotte, NC, explained that when working with male clients to improve their fertility and preconception health, she focuses on incorporating food sources of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants first. "However, some nutrients, such as zinc, an essential mineral important in sperm formation and hormone regulation, require consistent dietary intake to maintain adequate levels within the body," Fenimore said. In a case like that, a vitamin can be helpful. She echoed that many vitamins are not regulated by the FDA and that you should take the extra step to investigate claims like promises of boosting sperm count. Your best bet is to consult with a healthcare provider before spending your money.
A male prenatal vitamin is a newer concept that is becoming more mainstream for couples who have made the exciting decision to expand their family. It is important to keep in mind that no supplement can save a poor diet or an unhealthy lifestyle. But in conjunction with maintaining a healthy weight, not smoking, manageing stress, eating a well-balanced diet rich in antioxidants, and getting good quality sleep, a high-quality male prenatal vitamin with the right ingredients can't hurt!