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 fertility and pregnancy outcomes shifting from being just the woman's responsibility to being that of both parents, 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?
A male prenatal vitamin is formulated to support a man's sperm health to, in turn, support a healthy pregnancy. Often, they are multivitamins of a sort, containing nutrients and antioxidants that support men's sperm, like selenium, zinc, vitamin C, and vitamin E.
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. For both men and women, taking in the right amount of nutrients before pregnancy can play a positive role in the growth, development, and long-term health of 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 the risks of certain long-term cardiovascular, metabolic, and neurological issues for 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. A study published in 2019 suggests that, for couples who are undergoing IVF, a man's higher dietary folate intake is 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, a 2017 study indicates 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.
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 the most evidence supporting their use for men during the preconception period 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 organization, like the NSF or the 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 colors, 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 about 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, managing stress, eating a well-balanced diet rich in antioxidants, and getting good sleep, a high-quality male prenatal vitamin with the right ingredients can't hurt!