Prenatal vitamins are designed to give expecting mamas a boost of the specific nutrients they need to nourish their growing baby. But if they are higher in nutrients than a typical multivitamin, should you take them even if you aren’t pregnant? It might seem that more must be better, but that isn’t necessarily the case. Let’s dig in a little more.
How are prenatal vitamins different?
Before we get into the question at hand, it’s important to understand how prenatal vitamins differ from multivitamins. With the caveat that not all vitamins are created equal, prenatal vitamins typically contain higher levels of the following nutrients:
- Folate: folate is needed to support healthy neural tube development, which is particularly critical in the first trimester
- Iron: iron is needed to support increased blood volume and to support growth and development of the fetus and placenta
- Biotin: biotin aids in DNA replication and is needed to support the rapidly dividing cells of a developing baby
- Choline: choline is less commonly included but is essential for brain development, liver health, and placental function
- Supportive herbs: certain herbs can help support some of the unique needs of pregnancy. For example, our PureNatal® adds red raspberry leaf for uterine health.
Of course, all of these nutrients can also be obtained through a healthy whole foods diet, with a prenatal supplement providing a level of assurance that critical nutrient needs are met.
Who needs a prenatal?
Now, let’s talk about who would certainly benefit from a prenatal vitamin. Because prenatal vitamins are designed to support a growing fetus, and because the nutrients they contain are critical to development from day one of conception, they should be taken by any woman who is either pregnant or attempting to become pregnant.
Prenatal vitamins can be taken if you plan to start trying to conceive within the next three months. If you are in this stage of planning, it is a good idea to start to boost certain nutrients so that your body is ready when you are. If you are deficient, it can take time for cells to accumulate folate, and folate is critical from day one of conception.
In addition, it’s recommended that postpartum women who are breastfeeding continue their prenatal. Like pregnancy, breastfeeding is nutritionally demanding. A breastfeeding woman is sharing nutrients with her baby, and that means more is needed to meet the needs of both. Even if not breastfeeding, many new moms find themselves feeling a bit depleted from blood loss, inadequate sleep, and hormonal changes, and find that they are well supported by the nutrients in their prenatal vitamin.
In short, if you are thinking about becoming pregnant soon, trying to conceive, pregnant, or breastfeeding, it is wise to add a high-quality prenatal vitamin to your lineup.
What about everybody else?
So, what if you don’t fit into one of the categories above? Is it smart to take a prenatal vitamin? Is it safe?
Is it smart?
Well, we know that many nutrient levels are elevated in a prenatal vitamin, and there are not typically any critical vitamins or minerals that are excluded, but that doesn’t mean it’s the best formula for your unique body. Nutrient needs vary by age, activity level, current diet, health conditions, and many other factors, and all supplements should be evaluated with those considerations in mind. In other words, a supplement in the true sense of the word is intended to supplement your diet and lifestyle. Start with a healthy diet full of nutrient-dense whole foods. Then understand what gaps exist and what needs you have given your unique circumstances and target your supplementation accordingly.
Is it safe?
While most added ingredients in prenatal vitamins are unlikely to cause harm to an otherwise healthy adult without specific medical conditions, it’s also unlikely to provide any benefit beyond a high-quality multivitamin. That is, with one exception — iron. Taken in excess, iron can cause digestive distress and lead to damaging oxidative stress in the body. If you are eating an iron-rich diet and taking a prenatal vitamin when not pregnant, trying to become pregnant, or breastfeeding, you might find yourself with an intake in excess of your needs. PureNatal contains 27mg of iron, or the full daily recommendation for pregnant women, in a form that is both well-absorbed and gentle on the digestive system.
The Bottom Line
Like many things when it comes to health and wellness, supplements are not one size fits all. Not all vitamins have the same quality standards and not all needs are the same. Supplements are intended to fill gaps in your diet and offer insurance as needed.
Prenatal vitamins are designed for the needs of expecting women and their infants, so those outside of their reproductive years would likely benefit from a more targeted vitamin.