Can You Take Prenatal Vitamins If You're Not Pregnant?
One of the frequently asked questions we get is whether or not prenatal vitamins are acceptable to take if you are not pregnant. The answer is simple: typically, yes. Although there are a few exceptions. But first, let’s explore how prenatal vitamins are different from other multivitamins and why you would want to consider taking them even if you’re not pregnant.
How Prenatal Vitamins Differ from Multivitamins
It is often joked that pregnancy is a time of “eating for two” or three or however many you’re pregnant with. But in reality, nutritional needs do not double. A woman’s calorie requirements only go up by a few hundred, and nutritional demands, similarly, do not double or triple. (1)
However, the need for certain key nutrients does become significantly more important during the months before conception and throughout the pregnancy. Prenatal vitamins differ from most standard multivitamin formulations in that they have more of certain vitamins and minerals, including:
Folate: One of the most critical nutrients for pre-pregnancy and the first trimester, folate is essential for preventing neural tube defects, such as spina bifida. The RDA (recommended daily allowance) for non-pregnant people is 400 mcg DFE, while the RDA for pregnancy is 600 mcg DFE. (2) Most prenatal vitamins have higher levels of this B vitamin than standard multivitamins do. Seeking Health’s Optimal Prenatal formulation provides 800 micrograms of methylated folate, or the activated form, because this nutrient is so essential and not all women absorb it efficiently. By providing more than the RDA, the hope is that your body will be supported in optimal levels.*
Calcium: While the RDA does not increase for pregnant women, often prenatal vitamins have slightly more calcium than standard multivitamin formulations. (3) Seeking Health’s Optimal Multivitamin contains 210 milligrams of calcium, whereas Optimal Prenatal has 400 milligrams.
Iron: This mineral is essential for red blood cell formation and since a woman’s blood volume doubles during pregnancy, having enough iron is crucial. Without optimal levels, a pregnant woman could be excessively tired or anemic or face other complications. The RDA for iron is only 8 milligrams for adult men and 18 milligrams for adult non-pregnant women, but it jumps to 27 milligrams for pregnancy. (4) Iron is a complicated mineral for supplementation, however, since iron taken at the same time as calcium can interfere with absorption and vice versa. For this reason, Seeking Health does not include iron in either multivitamin formulation.
Prenatal vitamins also typically have less of other ingredients, especially vitamin A. Too little vitamin A is problematic for pregnancy, but too much preformed vitamin A can lead to pregnancy complications, especially in the first trimester. Excessive amounts of vitamin A are typically only possible in well-developed countries where dietary intake is adequate and supplementation is added to it. (5)
The RDA for vitamin A is 900msg RAE for men, 700 msg RAE for non-pregnant women, and 770 msg RAE for pregnant women. (6) Typical multivitamins may have as much as 10,000 IU (or more) per serving, which is about 200 percent the recommended daily allowance. While this might not be harmful to someone who is not pregnant, it’s important for pregnant women to avoid over supplementing this nutrient.*
Seeking Health’s Optimal Prenatal contains 1,500 mcg RAE of vitamin A, however, only 750 micrograms of it are “preformed,” meaning that it is still below the RDA for vitamin A. The other 750 micrograms are from beta carotene, which must be converted first. If your body does not need to use all of the beta carotene that you take in, it continues to circulate in your body where it also functions as an antioxidant. (7)*
Other types of prenatal vitamins might include nutrients not typically found in a multivitamin at all, such as omega-3 fatty acids, probiotics, and more. Seeking Health does not include these in a single supplement because it becomes increasingly complex to combine this many nutrients without needing to use fillers, flavorings, or preservatives. Taking omega-3 fatty acids and probiotics separately during pregnancy is recommended.*
5 Reasons Why You Might Want to Take Prenatal Vitamins Even If You’re Not Pregnant
Even if you are not currently pregnant and don’t plan to become pregnant, and even if you’re a man, you still might want to consider taking prenatal vitamins in some cases.
A prenatal vitamin provides significant nutritional support so that the enzymes that your genes make can function well. Enzymes perform the work in your body.
Think of enzymes as the worker bees. When there is work to do, your genes produce a lot of enzymes. Many of these enzymes require vitamins and minerals to work. Without vitamins and minerals, your enzymes cannot work well and, as a result, you experience symptoms.
In the same way that your car cannot work without gas and your stove cannot work without gas or electricity, your enzymes cannot work without vitamins and minerals. This is why a prenatal vitamin can be so useful. It provides the needed tools for your enzymes.
So ask yourself these questions if you’re not trying to conceive or currently pregnant:
Are my enzymes working at high speed?
Am I putting a lot of demands on my body?
If so, a prenatal vitamin may be appropriate for you. If not, then you likely don’t need it.
Personally, as a man, I alternate between Optimal Multivitamin Plus, a very comprehensive multivitamin, and Optimal Prenatal with Plant-Based Protein, a prenatal vitamin in a protein powder base. However, when I am on vacation I rarely take a multivitamin at all—perhaps only a few days a week. Why? Because my enzymes are not experiencing a ton of work at the moment. I am relaxed, not working hard, not teaching, not researching, sleeping well, and enjoying my time in the sun playing with my family.
If I was taking a prenatal vitamin or a potent multivitamin while on vacation when I did not need it, I’d likely experience symptoms. Too many vitamins and minerals clog your enzymes just like too much gas in your engine floods it and prevents it from starting. Balance is essential and there can be too much of a good thing.
The main reasons why prenatal vitamins could be considered by non-pregnant people are varied, but the important factor to remember is that it’s always best to speak with your doctor and get personalized advice first. Educational information can give you questions to ask your physician, but only your doctor has the bigger picture of your health factors in view.
If you simply want higher doses of the nutrients typically included in prenatal vitamins then taking one may be right for you. Some non-prenatal formulations will have more nutrients or differing amounts, so it really comes down to reading supplement labels and understanding what the nutrients do for you.
A big clue as to whether something is beneficial for you or not, when it comes to nutrient supplementation, is how it makes you feel. If you feel great taking a prenatal even if you’re not pregnant, then chances are it’s good for you.
Sometimes a doctor might recommend a specific supplement to you. If your doctor recommends a prenatal vitamin whether you’re pregnant or not, it’s a good idea to consider the reasoning behind your doctor’s recommendation.
Addressing Nutrient Deficiencies
If you’re anemic, taking a prenatal multivitamin that includes iron could be a helpful way to address this deficiency. If you’re struggling with other low nutrient levels, such as folate or calcium, or you want to optimize the way that your cells function, taking a prenatal multivitamin might be the best option for you.
If you’re involved in anything physically or mentally that is highly demanding, your body might require the higher levels of nutrients found in prenatal vitamins. Pregnancy is a time of extreme demand as cells literally reproduce at a frenzying pace to create a new human being. Beyond that, a woman needs the additional support as a large portion of her nutrient supplies are being transferred to nourish the baby. Even if the baby gets what it needs during pregnancy, if a woman doesn’t supplement during pregnancy, she could be facing serious nutrient depletions after delivery. The same could be true for someone who goes through intensive months of training for a marathon or other major event, and eventually finds themselves depleted of energy and nutrients.
Breastfeeding or Postpartum
The high nutritional demands don’t end when the baby is born, so if you’ve recently given birth or are breastfeeding, continuing to supplement with prenatal nutrients is essential. After about 12 to 24 months postpartum, a woman’s body has largely returned to its pre-pregnancy state of hormones, but if she is still of reproductive age, continuing a prenatal vitamin after that could still be beneficial.
Preparing for Pregnancy
If you’re working with a doctor who is treating infertility or helping to prepare you for pregnancy, it could be recommended that you take a prenatal for at least three months prior to trying to conceive. However, taking it for several more months in advance will only continue to prepare your body for conception.
Even if you’re not actively trying to get pregnant, if you’re a woman of reproductive age, taking a prenatal for your multivitamin works because it still meets the high demands of a body that could potentially be pregnant at any time—even if you know you’re not going to try. Physiologically speaking, you have the anatomy and hormones of a woman who could be pregnant, and nourishing these pathways can be effectively done by supplementing with prenatal nutrients. After all, fertility (or lack thereof) is present all the time and isn’t only relevant just because you want to have a baby. Fertility is one more way to assess a woman’s overall health status.
When Not to Take Prenatal Vitamins
A major reason why you might not want to take a prenatal if you don’t need one is that they have higher amounts of folate included because it supports cell growth and production and is essential for preventing birth defects of the neural tube. Excess folate can cause side effects in some people who are sensitive, so this is an important factor to consider.
Additionally, some struggle to take methylated nutrients. Optimal Prenatal includes L-5MTHF, or the activated form of folate. If you have MTHFR mutations, folic acid won’t work for you, but some do better with the folinic acid form. In this case, working directly with your practitioner to establish the right dosage and supplementation is essential.
Other reasons to stop taking a prenatal vitamin or to avoid taking one are if your doctor has specifically advised against it, or if you are going through cancer treatment or chemotherapy. This is because prenatal vitamins optimize cellular growth and reproduction, but in cancer, the cells that are reproducing are damaged. You don’t want to encourage this. Always make sure your oncologist is aware of any supplements you’re taking and follow their advice thoroughly.
In short, it’s often okay to take a prenatal vitamin most of the time even if you are not pregnant. The few exceptions are mentioned above.
Are you taking a prenatal vitamin now or considering it even if you are not trying to conceive or are pregnant? Why? Share in the comments below.
For more information on our complete line of Prenatal Vitamins, and to get yours today, click here.