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The Truth About Taking Prenatal Vitamins When Not Pregnant

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There are a lot of misconceptions and myths around prenatal vitamins, what they do, who they are meant for, and how they can be harmful. Taking a look at the hard truth about prenatal vitamins can alleviate concerns as well as reveal a few safety concerns for those who are not pregnant. We’re going to focus on the truth about taking prenatal vitamins when you’re not pregnant, but we’ll also discuss exactly what prenatal vitamins are and why their allure is so strong among women who are not receiving prenatal care.

What are prenatal vitamins, and what makes them different?

Prenatal vitamins are a formula. They are a multivitamin that has been formulated for women who are either pregnant or trying to get pregnant. From the label, they can seem very similar to one-a-day women’s vitamins – the only thing they contain that you don’t need if you aren’t pregnant or trying, is folic acid. But the real truth lies in the doses of each vitamin, and the timing. In general, nutrients should come from the food you eat. However, doctors advise women to take prenatal vitamins when they are trying to become pregnant or once they’ve become pregnant because they ensure you are getting the valuable vitamins and minerals you need for a healthy pregnancy and a healthy baby.

Why do women take prenatal vitamins when trying to get pregnant?

The most significant difference between prenatal vitamins and the one-a-day vitamins most women take is that prenatals typically contain more folic acid and iron. You also want to check the label for omega-3 fatty acids, calcium, and vitamin D.
  • Folic acid prevents congenital disabilities, most notably, neural tube defects. That means having folic acid in your body when you do get pregnant will protect your baby from severe defects and abnormalities of the brain and spinal cord.
  • Iron is something we often find in one-a-day vitamins, but only enough to get the recommended daily amount for a healthy woman who is not pregnant. Getting enough iron for pregnancy means you’ll be able to support the baby’s growth and development. Those who have low iron, or anemia, will have a low number of red blood cells, which can be problematic for both the baby and the mother.
  • Not all prenatal vitamins include omega-3 fatty acids, but these are crucial to the development of your baby’s brain. Since many physicians warn against eating fish while pregnant because of the risk of heavy-metal content, taking an omega-3 fatty acid supplement will often be advised. Even omega-3 supplements can and often do contain heavy metals. Taking an alternative high-quality supplement, such as algae, can be an important solution as long as they don’t contain heavy metals.
  • Calcium and vitamin D are also vital, particularly during the third trimester. This is when your baby’s bones are growing and strengthening. Ensuring you get enough of this combination will earn you and your baby strong structural integrity and help to prevent some common bone defects.
  • For many, choosing to supplement with algae is a desirable option before pregnancy because early studies have shown promise for its benefits, and because gram for gram it’s the most nutrient-dense food on the planet. Algae is a superfood that must be selected from a reputable source as a high-quality supplement. It’s considered a complete source of protein, and is high in calcium, B-vitamins, and iron – all essential to prenatal development.
Always check with your physician when deciding which supplements are best for you.  The recommendation from your doctor will most likely be to take prenatal vitamins, including algae, at least one month before you begin trying to get pregnant. This is, so you have a balance of all the nutrients necessary for a successful pregnancy. It’s the first few weeks of pregnancy that are crucial for fetal health and development and can benefit most from taking prenatal vitamins. By taking prenatals, you are significantly reducing the risk of congenital disabilities. Doctors will then advise you to continue taking prenatal vitamins throughout your entire pregnancy.

What are the reasons women take prenatal vitamins when they are not pregnant?

Because prenatal vitamins are meant to help women become healthy and ready to build life, a lot of people operate under the misconception that prenatals must then be healthy for all women at all times. Many pregnant women report longer, thicker, shinier hair, better skin, and stronger nails. However, these results can be from pregnancy hormones, not prenatal vitamins. You can achieve better hair and skin as well as other highly sought after results with a nutrient-dense diet, or with the use of high-quality supplements formulated for women who are not pregnant. Prenatal vitamins, however, are designed for women who are pregnant and can be harmful to women whose bodies are not pregnant. We’ll cover this in more detail below.

Are there benefits to taking prenatal vitamins while you are not pregnant?

The truth is, prenatal vitamins are formulated for a particular purpose, to support a woman’s body as she supports the development of a new life. Taking prenatal vitamins when you are not pregnant may have many of the same vitamins, but the formula can actually be harmful to your health and wellbeing in several ways.

What are the side-effects of taking prenatal vitamins while you are not pregnant?

There are several side effects and safety concerns for those who take prenatal vitamins when they are not pregnant. Some are more severe than others. Even pregnant women report some common side effects of taking prenatal vitamins. Many experience nausea and constipation. For nausea, many physicians will advise you to take your prenatals before bed or to avoid taking them on an empty stomach. Standard advice will also include the recommendation that you drink plenty of fluids and eat more fiber. For those who are not pregnant, you may experience nausea, constipation, and other downsides if you take prenatal vitamins.
  • Hair loss. Ironically, even though women often take prenatal vitamins while they aren’t pregnant, the women who take prenatals for the long-term actually report hair loss in the long run. The reason some pregnant women experience a boost in hair growth is because of their hormonal changes, not the prenatal vitamins they are taking.
  • Vitamin B12 deficiency. Prenatals contain more folate and iron than the average multivitamin to combat anemia. Getting too much iron, and especially folate can end up masking and even aggravating a B12 deficiency. Missing out on a B12 deficiency diagnosis can lead to fatigue and other long-term problems.
  • Calcium and Vitamin D. Prenatals do not have enough calcium or vitamin D to meet your daily recommended intake. This can have several unintended consequences, not the least of which is osteoporosis and depression.
  • Liver Damage. Because iron intake is higher when taking prenatal vitamins, you can end up with a relatively minor symptom, like constipation. Or you can end up with a more severe condition, such as liver damage, from taking too much iron in the long-term.
Doctors recommend that people take supplements based on the needs of their bodies according to their lifestyle, age, sex, and more. Prenatals are an example of a multivitamin that is specially formulated only for women who are pregnant or trying to conceive. Those who are taking prenatals, ongoing, even though they aren’t pregnant, can experience dire consequences. Instead, look for supplements that are high-quality, plant-based, and nutrient-dense. It’s also certainly advisable to always check with your doctor about the best options for you and your health goals. 
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