Six years ago when I was pregnant with my son I entered the high-risk pregnancy club with no real understanding of why I was in early labor at only 17 weeks. Fast forward six years later and I am expecting my third child ( A complete surprise) and I once again am part of that club most pregnant women dont like being a member of! The only difference this time is that I have finally learned some of the reasons why I always have such bad pregnancies and that is that I am a carrier of the MTHFR gene, something I didn’t learn until after my first two pregnancies. So what does that mean for a woman who has the MTHFR gene who is either going to become pregnant or is already pregnant?
What does MTHFR have to do with pregnancy?
The B vitamin Folic Acid has been touted as the most important vitamin for the proper development of a baby in pregnancy. This is especially true for the first few weeks of pregnancy when the spinal column is developing. But what if your body has a genetic defect that makes it extremely difficult for your body to utilize folic acid properly and how would you even know? For 1 in 4 people this is a serious reality and if left undiagnosed, may lead to a variety of pregnancy-related issues including difficulties conceiving, unexplained infertility, elevated homocysteine levels, recurrent miscarriages, a child with Down Syndrome, development of Autism, preeclampsia, postpartum depression, preterm labor or even the development of chronic depression.
When we have the MTHFR gene mutation, either in one gene or both, we experience a loss of the enzyme in the liver needed to turn folic acid into folate for the body to use.
Folate, vitamin B9, is used in the body for many things including detoxification, growth, energy, muscle building, brain function, and more
MTHFR getting pregnant and miscarriage risk…
With my second pregnancy, I had tried to conceive for almost a year with no luck and a scheduled appointment with a fertility doctor. It made no sense to me because my first child I had no problem conceiving but when I think back to that time in my life my health was not very good, I always was sick, had chronic pain, chronic yeast, and bacteria infections and had hormone issues as well.
I hear story after story of women who have had four, five, or more miscarriages—without any understanding of why it was happening. Others had babies with spina bifida, Down’s syndrome, and/or other birth defects in spite of following all the advice for a healthy pregnancy and taking their folic acid regularly. In many of these cases, the culprit is an undiagnosed MTHFR mutation that they were either never tested for or only learned about when it was too late.
Folate is extremely important for the creation of new cells so it makes all the sense in the world that you need extra in early pregnancy when you consider that babies are 100% new cells. Folate is especially important for the development of a baby’s nervous system, which occurs within the first few weeks of pregnancy, often before a woman even knows she is pregnant. If she does not have enough folate available to help support this crucial stage in her baby’s development, by the time she gets to the 6th or 7th week of pregnancy (2 or 3 weeks after missing a period), a miscarriage can occur.
What to do once you are pregnant…
If you have an MTHFR mutation, cease folic acid supplementation, and begin supplementing with active folate. This will bypass your MTHFR mutation, and ensure your levels of active folate increase.
If you uncover that you do not have a MTHFR mutation, active folate is still the far superior form of folate supplementation when compared to folic acid.
The reason is that folic acid is synthetic and man-made. It does not occur naturally in the body. It also puts pressure on the gene that pulls your folate into the cell and overloads it, potentially causing a decrease in your active folate.
When I was pregnant with my first two children I took the prenatal vitamin I was told to take by my OBGYN with no knowledge that I even had the MTHFR mutation. This prenatal made me throw up violently for the duration of both of my pregnancies and little did I know that was the first sign something was not right. With my third pregnancy the minute I found out I was pregnant I knew this time I was going to make some serious changes for not only myself but my unborn baby. Picking a prenatal vitamin with folate instead of folic acid was the first and most important step I made. We were already using multivitamins made by Dr.Ben Lynch the MTHFR guru and finally having some positive results in not only my health but my children’s health. I had heard great things on many groups I was part of about his Prenatal vitamin and figured I would give it a try! I was amazed that within the first dose I had more energy, especially in my first trimester when I was feeling exhausted, but most of all I wasn’t throwing it up like I had with other prenatal vitamins. I highly recommend both of these prenatal vitamins that are well worth the money if you have MTHFR.
Precautions in taking a vitamin with Methyl-folate
Methyl-folate maybe a powerful nutrient and a lifesaver for people with MTHFR mutations but it can also cause temporary side effects, especially in the high doses. As Kelly Brogan MD explains, doses must be “thoughtful and conservative”, gradually increased and strictly within the recommended range in order to avoid side effects.
If however, you do experience methyl folate side effects (agitation, irritability, insomnia, acne, increased anxiety, headaches, migraines, nausea, sore muscles), you should reduce your dose significantly or take a break from your methyl-folate supplement for a week. In the meantime, Dr. Ben Lynch recommends you take 50-100 mg of vitamin B3 (nicotinic acid or niacinamide). You may feel a “warm feeling” all over your body between 20- 30 minutes after taking the vitamin B3, which is normal and nothing to worry about. You can take curcumin (turmeric) supplements, which help to bring any pre-existing inflammation down. Also, you should reduce eating green leafy foods until the side effects go away.
Other supplements to help with your pregnancy/MTHFR…
Pre-term labor and Homocysteine levels
Pregnant women are more prone to blood clots, for example, which are generally a risk when a person has elevated homocysteine. As we know, excess homocysteine is a common side effect of MTHFR mutations. High homocysteine can also cause pre-eclampsia and miscarriage, which I’ll discuss a little more in the next section. It is important to note also that, according to leading MTHFR researcher Dr. Ben Lynch, it isn’t enough to just look at homocysteine levels when dealing with pregnancy complications and loss. Sometimes a patient may not have an elevated serum homocysteine level but still may have issues due to MTHFR. MTHFR mutations must be identified and addressed in order to achieve optimal results. Untreated MTHFR also puts women at a higher risk of postpartum depression.
To Lovenox or not?
This is the question on the lips of many a MTHFR sufferer. Do I need daily injections of a blood thinner during my pregnancy? From everything I’ve read the answer seems to be that if you have homozygous mutations: possibly; if you have RPL: probably; if you have MTHFR mutations plus other diagnosed thrombotic issues: definitely.
My Pregnancy with Baby # 3
Preterm labor is something I have battled again with this third pregnancy and I wish I had a magic answer on what to take to help women who are in the same boat as I am…but sadly I don’t. The one thing I will say that I am learning with my own contractions this time around is that the amount I am getting daily is completely dependent on how vitamin deficient I am at that time. Even though I am taking my prenatal, probiotics, vitamin D, etc. I still have days where the baby is ultimately taking as much as she needs to grow and leaving my body deficient and I have to constantly reevaluate my amino acid levels. Usually, once I adjust them or take more my energy returns, my contractions either diminish or slow down significantly. Everyone is different in the end and there are so many different forms of MTHFR and everyone’s treatment plan is different based on which form you have. The best thing you can do for yourself is get tested if you are having trouble conceiving or trouble to stay pregnant to see if you have the MTHFR gene. Once you have determined you are dealing with the MTHFR gene mutation my biggest suggestion is to find a doctor who knows about MTHFR and the possible risks and complications that come along with this gene mutation.
As always if you ever have any questions feel free to contact me anytime at firstname.lastname@example.org