The Future of Prenatal Care is Personalization
A conversation with Doreen Bloch, Founder and CEO of Ellement
When Doreen Bloch was choosing a prenatal supplement during her pregnancy, she had to take matters into her own hands. Lacking guidance from physicians and absent any regulation in the space, her own research showed her that, despite what she was hearing, supplements vary materially –– from the dosages and form factors to preservatives and additives that can potentially be harmful. Individual pregnancies vary tremendously as well: every woman will experience different symptoms, have a unique history of vitamin deficiencies, and will absorb nutrients differently. And, of course, a woman and her baby’s needs will change as the pregnancy evolves from pre-conception, through each trimester of growth, to post-natal. A lightbulb went off for Doreen that prenatals should not be one-size-fits-all.
Since she didn’t see a solution on the market, multiple-time founder Doreen launched Ellement to offer women the prenatal she wanted during her pregnancy. We sat down with Doreen to learn more about her journey identifying the biggest pain points in the space, navigating an unregulated industry, and where she thinks prenatal care is headed.
What inspired you to start Ellement?
When I was pregnant five years ago, I was told that I needed to take a prenatal. In particular, I was told that because it’s really critical to have adequate levels of folic acid to support neural tube development for the fetus, especially in the first trimester.
When I had asked the doctor which prenatal I should take, I received no guidance. I learned that this is extremely common because historically, prenatals haven’t had much differentiation. Having had a career background in data analytics, I went into full data nerd mode and learned how many variables there are in the prenatal supplement space. Wanting to optimize my own health, I learned as much as I could and built matrices and spreadsheets to really understand what I should be taking and when. That’s when I realized that you really shouldn't need a PhD to be able to pick a prenatal.
A prenatal should be relevant to your stage and individualized to you. The light bulb for me was that each person is different, each pregnancy is different, and your prenatal should be too. Since I didn't see that on the market, I decided to start building it.
What are the biggest pain points and misconceptions in the prenatal supplement space?
The first pain point is that prenatals are not optimized for bio-availability. The second is that many brands include fillers or additives, but are missing certain key ingredients. There is a mismatch of not having everything you need, and then having added ingredients that are not helpful for a pregnant woman. Many doctors will say all prenatals are the same, but when you look at the ingredient labels, they vary significantly in terms of dosages, form factors, as well as additives, preservatives, stabilizers, and fillers.
There is a misconception that all prenatals are healthy. In the United States, supplements are not regulated by the FDA, and there is a lot of junk that ends up in prenatal supplements. One timely example is the major class action lawsuit filed this summer related to titanium dioxide in Skittles. The lawsuit stipulates that titanium dioxide is unfit for human consumption. It’s actually already been banned in the EU, and yet it’s lurking as just an additive in about 15% of prenatal supplements, including some high-end brands. Ultimately, this is an ingredient that people would prefer to avoid during pregnancy if they knew about it.
Finally, because prenatals are not personalized for every journey, the vast majority of pregnant people are switching prenatal brands multiple times during pregnancy because they're playing this game of whack-a-mole with different symptoms. Ellement solves that problem by checking in every 30 days to ask about what you're experiencing so that we can get ahead of all these symptoms.
How do women discover Ellement and other prenatal brands?
The majority of pregnant people are told by their OBGYN to take a prenatal. If they hadn't heard about it before, that first moment often happens in the doctor's office, so we’re building a strong network of OBGYN offices who can recommend Ellement to their patients.
We’ve found that 80% of people who are signing up for Ellement are actually preconception. They're looking for fertility support, and to make sure that when they do get pregnant, they're starting off on the right foot from day one. That discovery is primarily happening online. Anywhere people are learning about pregnancy or fertility, we want to be –– from podcasts to newsletters to physicians’ offices.
Supplements are an unregulated space. What do founders need to keep in mind when choosing a production partner?
Because supplements are unregulated, I cannot overstate how critical third-party lab testing is. For us, the three key considerations in choosing a partner were the quality of the raw ingredients, suppliers, and the capability to do the third-party lab testing.
For founders, I also recommend ordering a lot of samples, comparing their different capabilities, and speaking with references. It was really important to me to understand what other founders experienced with different suppliers, and making sure that we found the right fit not only in terms of the quality, but also management, labor, and eco-friendly practices.
You’ve built a company before. What are the biggest lessons you’re taking from your first experience as a founder and bringing to Ellement?
Really knowing how critical it is to understand the market. Before ordering the first samples of Ellement, I studied over 100 other prenatal brands to understand exactly where we will be able to out-compete and how we can put the customer at the center of the experience.
Additionally, knowing how important it is to test, iterate, learn and eat your own dog food (as we say in the startup space). This is a product that I use every day. The standard has to be that it's better than anything else that I could buy on the market.
How do you think the prenatal nutrition space will evolve in the coming years? Where will we be in a decade?
With prenatal nutrition, it comes down to three things. First: cleaner. As customers have more access to information than ever before, they're going to demand that fillers and additives get removed from products.
Second: more coverage. Right now, the majority of OBGYNs are still talking about prenatal nutrition after a patient comes to them and is already pregnant. I'm very encouraged that forward-thinking doctors are starting to talk to their patients even earlier –– when they're thinking about getting pregnant. We’ll also see nutritional care expanding to the postnatal period as well.
There are a lot of different modalities outside of Western medicine that support a postnatal person's journey, from the first month through first years post-birth. For instance, it is so important to restore the quality of blood and overall pelvic floor, and that has been very left behind in the conversation around pregnancy. Everything becomes about the baby, and the mom is an afterthought.
Lastly, the future will be about personalization. It's about giving pregnant people and their families the choice that makes sense for them and their journey, and ultimately giving babies the best possible start in life.
Who inspires you?
My son. He's almost five, and the curiosity and awe with which he sees the world is so inspiring to me. It reminds me every day to question the status quo.
Anybody who has children will know that semi-annoyance of kids always asking “but why, but why.” To me, having that mentality of constantly wanting to learn and holding a sense of wonder for the world is not annoying at all –– it's truly inspiring. He's always pushing me to work smarter, and is a constant reminder of the importance of the work that we're doing at Ellement.
Learn more about Ellement and sign up here.