Can You Take Prenatal Vitamins Without Being Pregnant?
Prenatal vitamins are full of important vitamins and minerals, but are they really only for people pregnant and trying to conceive? Read on to find out!
By Dr. Kenosha Gleaton, OBGYN and fertility expert
There are a lot of claims about prenatal vitamins and their effects on health, even for those that aren’t pregnant. It’s true that prenatal vitamins can provide some benefits, but they aren’t right for everybody.
What ingredients are included in prenatal vitamins?
You may be wondering what makes prenatal vitamins so special compared to a normal multivitamin. Most prenatals include larger amounts of key vitamins and minerals in order to adequately support both mom and baby during pregnancy. In addition to more calories and water, pregnant women require more of almost every vitamin and mineral in order to support a healthy pregnancy .
Different brands may have different dosages and ingredients, but a comprehensive prenatal should contain:
Vitamin B1 (thiamin)
Vitamin B2 (riboflavin)
Vitamin B3 (niacin)
Vitamin B7 (biotin)
The main difference between general multivitamins and prenatal vitamins is the dosage and the addition of specific nutrients needed to support a healthy pregnancy, specifically ingredients such as folate, DHA, and choline. These three nutrients play an important role in fetal development, specifically neural development and preventing neural tube defects .
What are the benefits of prenatal vitamins?
Prenatal vitamins do provide some benefits, especially for those hoping to conceive soon. Studies show that prenatal vitamin supplementation can lower the risk of miscarriage, reduce the chance of birth defects, and may improve nausea and vomiting associated with early pregnancy [2-4].
Research also shows that taking a prenatal or postnatal vitamin while breastfeeding supports healthy vision, motor development, and cognitive development in breastfeeding infants . Some nutrients such as folate are vital during the first few weeks of pregnancy in order to support healthy neural tube development, another reason prenatal vitamins are recommended for those hoping to conceive, as some are unaware of their pregnancy until a few weeks or even a few months gestation .
Some people with vitamin deficiencies or other conditions may need higher amounts of vitamins than the general population, in these cases prenatal vitamins or other high dose supplements may be recommended by a clinician. As always, you should always speak with your healthcare provider before adding any supplements or vitamins to your routine.
A common misconception about prenatal vitamins is that they can benefit hair and nail growth. While diet and nutrition do play a role in our skin, hair, and nails, a prenatal vitamin is not going to provide you with more benefits than a general multivitamin or targeted vitamin like biotin would. Read more about vitamins and hair health.
What are the negative effects of prenatal vitamins?
While they are a great source of nutrients, prenatal vitamins are specifically formulated for those trying to get pregnant or already pregnant. The nutritional needs of the general population versus that of a pregnant person differ greatly, and there may be some negative effects associated with long term use of prenatal vitamins in those that aren’t trying to conceive or pregnant.
Vitamin toxicity can occur when some vitamins are consumed in extremely high amounts. This is mostly the case for fat-soluble vitamins, which are stored in fatty tissue or organs and are more difficult to shed than water-soluble vitamins . Water-soluble vitamins can be shed through the urine if consumed in excess. Fat soluble vitamins include vitamins A, D, E, and K. While it’s unlikely that taking prenatal vitamins for a few months without being pregnant will result in any negative effects, long term use may lead to vitamin build up and may cause toxic effects, such as [7-9]:
Vitamin A toxicity
Overconsumption of vitamin A may lead to birth defects, visual changes, liver damage, and hair and skin changes
Vitamin D toxicity
Research states that vitamin D overconsumption may lead to calcium buildup, weakness, bone pain, and kidney problems.
Vitamin E toxicity
High amounts of vitamin E may lead to nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, blurred vision, and headaches.
Iron toxicity may also occur and can result in diarrhea, bloating, abdominal pain, and organ failure.
So who should and shouldn’t take prenatal vitamins?
In general, anyone that is actively trying to get pregnant, is currently pregnant, or isn’t trying to prevent pregnancy can benefit from taking a prenatal vitamin. If you have been taking a prenatal vitamin, but still are not planning to become pregnant in the near future, speak with your healthcare provider about their recommendations. You may be able to get all the nutrients you need with a general multivitamin. If you are not of reproductive age or if you’re preventing pregnancy, you likely will not benefit from a prenatal vitamin and should stick to a multivitamin.
Find more information on prenatal vitamins and nutrition on the Natalist blog
- National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine; Health and Medicine Division; Food and Nutrition Board; Committee to Review the Dietary Reference Intakes for Sodium and Potassium; Oria M, Harrison M, Stallings VA, editors. Dietary Reference Intakes for Sodium and Potassium. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 2019 Mar 5. Appendix J, Dietary Reference Intakes Summary Tables. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK545442
- Irvine N, England-Mason G, Field CJ, Dewey D, Aghajafari F. Prenatal Folate and Choline Levels and Brain and Cognitive Development in Children: A Critical Narrative Review. Nutrients. 2022;14(2):364. Published 2022 Jan 15. doi:10.3390/nu14020364
- Hasan R, Olshan AF, Herring AH, Savitz DA, Siega-Riz AM, Hartmann KE. Self-reported vitamin supplementation in early pregnancy and risk of miscarriage. Am J Epidemiol. 2009;169(11):1312-1318. doi:10.1093/aje/kwp050
- Morning sickness: Nausea and vomiting of pregnancy. ACOG. https://www.acog.org/womens-health/faqs/morning-sickness-nausea-and-vomiting-of-pregnancy. Published May 2020. Accessed February 15, 2023.
- Morse NL. Benefits of Docosahexaenoic Acid, Folic Acid, Vitamin D and Iodine on Foetal and Infant Brain Development and Function Following Maternal Supplementation during Pregnancy and Lactation. Nutrients. 2012; 4(7):799-840. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu4070799
- National Research Council (US) Committee on Diet and Health. Diet and Health: Implications for Reducing Chronic Disease Risk. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 1989. 11, Fat-Soluble Vitamins. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK218749/
- Wooltorton E. Too much of a good thing? Toxic effects of vitamin and mineral supplements [published correction appears in CMAJ. 2003 Aug 19;169(4):283]. CMAJ. 2003;169(1):47-48.
- Nutrition During Pregnancy. ACOG. https://www.acog.org/womens-health/faqs/nutrition-during-pregnancy. Reviewed December 2021. Accessed February 15, 2023.
- Yuen HW, Becker W. Iron Toxicity. [Updated 2022 Jun 27]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2022 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK459224/