IIf there is an agreed “must” during pregnancy, taking prenatal supplements may be essential. They provide mother and baby with all the necessary nutrients and vitamins to support a healthy pregnancy, reducing the risk of premature delivery, preeclampsia, low birth weight, etc.
But have you ever considered taking prenatal consultations when you are not pregnant? There are many incentives such as healthy hair and skin, fertility benefits, and just overall vitamin and mineral intake. Since they are designed specifically for pregnancy, you might be curious if they are safe or if they are the best vitamins for you. So we spoke with three reproductive health experts about their thoughts and to learn about the possible benefits and risks of taking prenatal vitamins when you’re not pregnant.
Prenatal Vitamins vs Regular Vitamins
You won’t find many differences between the ingredient lists of prenatal vitamins and women’s multivitamins. They both typically contain nutrients like calcium, iron, magnesium, and zinc, as well as vitamins A, B, C, D, and E. What you’ll see are different amounts of these ingredients.
Pregnancy requires higher levels of nutrients like folic acid and iron to help reduce the risk of maternal anemia and iron deficiency. OB/GYN Jessica Shepherd, MDsays what makes prenatal formula different is that it helps provide the right amount of these daily nutrients for a healthy pregnancy, whereas some multivitamins may contain a little folic acid or iron, but not necessarily enough to meet the recommended dosage for pregnant women.
Still, with that added iron and folate (and vitamin D), prenatal supplements are something most menstruating people would benefit from taking as a daily multivitamin, says a naturopath and acupuncturist. Amanda Frick, ND, Lacvice president of medical affairs of the online health platform Thorne. “The main reason for this is that prenatal supplements usually contain iron, unlike any multivitamin or mineral supplement,” she says. “Because a woman loses iron every month during her menstrual cycle, taking a prenatal supplement helps replenish the iron we need for healthy red blood cells and our feeling of vitality. Many women also notice that their hair and nails are stronger when they take a prenatal supplement.
omega-3 fatty acids And choline (important brain-boosting nutrients) are also often found in prenatal vitamins and not always in regular multivitamins. One thing to note: calcium can be limited or excluded from a prenatal vitamin because it interferes with iron absorption.
Prenatals and their Folic Acid Benefits
Almost everyone can benefit take a multivitamin, but if you want to swap it out with a prenatal, there’s little risk in doing so. Dr. Frick says this is a particularly good idea if you are planning to get pregnant in the near future.
“Prenatal supplements contain essential nutrients for a healthy early pregnancy,” she says. “In fact, neurological development is almost complete by the time most women realize they are pregnant. Because folate is so critical for neurological development, having enough folate before you get pregnant is very important to ensure healthy neurological development.
If you need extra motivation, consider the potential impact on your fertility: A study 2016 found that women who used folic acid were 15% more likely to get pregnant within 12 cycles, and folic acid increased the chance of pregnancy by 36% in women with short cycles (less than 27 days).
Folic acid also has other benefits beyond pregnancy. He also has it has been shown to prevent stroke and heart disease: Some studies show that folic acid supplementation can lead to a 4% reduction in overall risk of heart disease and a 10% reduction in risk of stroke. Folic acid can also stimulate hair growth or help with hair loss and thinning, and is even recommended for the elderly to prevent memory decline.
Should I take prenatals while breastfeeding?
The short answer is yes. Part of any postpartum care plan should include nourishing your body with nutrient rich foodsand supplementing with a prenatal while breastfeeding helps ensure you get the proper nutrition you need to repair and recover from the birthing experience, and that the right nutrients are delivered to the baby through your breast milk.
However, Mary Jacobson, MDhead doctor of the women’s health platform Hello Alpha and a board-certified OB/GYN, says prenatal vitamins while breastfeeding should be individualized: A clinician should screen those who are breastfeeding regarding their diet and vitamin supplements to confirm they are meeting recommended daily intakes of essential nutrients and vitamins.
It’s also important to be consistent with the nutrients and vitamins your body consumes during pregnancy and soon after. Making abrupt changes or shifts in your daily vitamin intake could cause nutritional problems or imbalance.
Cases where antenatal consultations are not recommended
The main reason to avoid using a prenatal supplement as a daily multivitamin or mineral supplement would be if you have issues with iron overload or if your healthcare provider has instructed you to avoid an iron supplement, says Dr. Frick. If so, then opting for a daily multivitamin or mineral supplement without iron (or opting to supplement with targeted nutrients for your individual health goals) would be best for you.
Like any supplement, you should discuss prenatals with your doctor before taking them to ensure you choose the right one and get the best benefits. “Due to the iron levels in the prenatal vitamin, it can lead to constipation as well as stomach cramps, upset stomach, and changes in bowel movements,” says Dr. Shepherd. She adds that it’s also important to make sure prenatals don’t interfere with any medications you’re taking. For example, some blood pressure and heart medications can interact with prenatal vitamins, so be sure to review medication lists with your OB/GYN.
Another common side effect is nausea, in addition to upset stomach or diarrhea. This can be helped by taking prenatal vitamins with food and also using ginger before taking prenatal vitamins. And if you have trouble swallowing pills, consider gummy prenatal vitamins (note though that most gummies are iron-free, so be sure to check the ingredients).