take prenatal vitamins without being pregnant

Can You Take Prenatal Vitamins Without Being Pregnant?

Dr. Jolene BrightenPublished: Last Reviewed: Balancing Your Hormones, Herbs & Supplements, Pregnancy, Wellbeing Leave a Comment

Prenatal vitamins are often associated exclusively with pregnancy, but their benefits can extend beyond supporting a healthy pregnancy. Due to their rich concentration of essential vitamins and minerals, they can boost your overall nutrient intake, thereby reducing the risk of issues tied to nutrient deficiencies.

Potential health benefits of prenatal vitamins when not pregnant include:

  • Decreasing the risk of nutrient deficiencies, including those induced by medications
  • Supporting thyroid function
  • Facilitating immune system defenses
  • Improving mental clarity, energy, and focus
  • Supporting healthy eyes, skin, hair, and nails
  • Support cyclical hormones for easier periods and better moods
  • Help you meet the higher nutrient requirements of breastfeeding

This article will explore the various aspects of taking prenatal vitamins even when you're not pregnant, covering their uses and potential benefits, such as improving the health of your hair and skin and supporting healthy energy levels.

Understanding Prenatal Vitamins: What Sets Them Apart?

Prenatal vitamins are specially formulated supplements designed to support the health of pregnant women and their developing babies. 

What makes prenatal vitamins different from regular multivitamins? They differ from regular multis in their composition and concentration, particularly in the amount of certain nutrients they contain – especially folate/folic acid, iron, calcium, and iodine.

Prenatal vitamins are tailored to meet the increased nutritional demands of pregnancy, ensuring both the mother and the baby receive adequate nutrients that can help lower the risk of complications. Prenatals typically provide higher levels of the nutrients mentioned above because these are crucial for fetal development, especially in the early stages of pregnancy, as well as circulation, thyroid support, and more. 

Women who are pregnant or trying to get pregnant typically need higher amounts of these vitamins and minerals, which prenatal vitamins can help to provide:

  • Vitamins A, C, D, K
  • B vitamins including B1, B3, B5, B6, B1
  • Folate
  • Biotin
  • Iron
  • Calcium
  • Magnesium
  • Choline
  • Iodine
  • Selenium

What Are the Benefits of Prenatal Vitamins When Not Pregnant?

While prenatal vitamins are intended to support women wanting to become pregnant, currently pregnant, or nursing, they're also suitable for those who aren't trying to conceive

When you take a prenatal vitamin as part of your daily wellness routine, you can expect to experience a range of potential benefits, such as:

  • Help preventing nutrient deficiencies
  • Help meeting nutritional needs while breastfeeding
  • Support for healthy hair, skin, and nails
  • Healthier energy levels
  • Support for bone health
  • Mood regulation
  • Immune system support
  • Thyroid function support
  • Support for heart health
  • Greater antioxidant protection
  • Help with hormonal balance 

Iron-Deficiency Anemia Prevention 

The higher iron content in prenatal vitamins can help prevent iron deficiency anemia, a common condition in women of childbearing age that can cause fatigue, brain fog, and weakness. According to the World Health Organization, about 30% of women worldwide between the ages of 15 and 49 suffer from iron deficiency anemia. 

Iron deficiency anemia is most common among women who:

  • Have heavy menstrual bleeding
  • Are pregnant or breastfeeding
  • Have recently given birth
  • Have undergone major surgery or physical trauma
  • Have gastrointestinal diseases such as celiac disease (sprue), inflammatory bowel diseases such as ulcerative colitis, or Crohn’s disease, all of which can affect nutrient absorption

Deficiency can also occur in vegetarians, vegans, and other people whose diets do not include iron-rich foods, especially meat, poultry, and fish, which contain heme iron that is much more absorbable than plant-based iron.

The best form of supplemental iron for absorption is generally considered to be ferrous bisglycinate or ferrous fumarate. These forms of iron tend to be better absorbed by the body compared to iron sulfate, which is commonly prescribed but is known for causing constipation and being poorly absorbed.

Balanced Nutrient Levels

For women with dietary restrictions or certain health conditions, prenatal vitamins can help maintain balanced levels of essential nutrients. For instance, among vegetarians and vegans, vitamin B12, zinc, calcium, and selenium levels may be lower than normal, which a prenatal can help to counteract.

For those taking birth control pills or certain medications, nutrients can become depleted more easily, which a prenatal can help to provide. The pill can deplete nutrients such as:

  • Folate (Vitamin B9)
  • Vitamin B6
  • Vitamin B12
  • Vitamin C
  • Magnesium
  • Zinc
  • Selenium

Some other common medications that can contribute to low levels of certain nutrients include:

MedicationNutrient Deficiencies
Antacids and Proton Pump InhibitorsCalcium, magnesium, and iron
Oral contraceptive pills Folate, B2, B6, B12, vitamin C and E, magnesium, selenium, and zinc
DiureticsPotassium, magnesium, sodium, and calcium
CorticosteroidsCalcium, potassium, magnesium, and vitamin D
MetforminVitamin B12
AntibioticsCalcium, magnesium, and iron
Anti-seizure medicationsVitamin D
LaxativesPotassium and magnesium

Support for Menstrual Health

The additional iron and B vitamins in prenatals can help support normal energy levels and overall well-being, particularly for women with heavy menstruation who lose a lot of blood during their periods, as well as those with PMS.

B vitamins, particularly vitamin B6, can help alleviate PMS symptoms by regulating neurotransmitters that influence mood and by balancing hormonal fluctuations. 

Iron plays a role in addressing fatigue and low energy often associated with PMS, helping to improve one’s mood.

Provides Nutrients for Breastfeeding

Nutritional needs are higher while lactating, which is why it's recommended to stay on a prenatal for as long as you're breastfeeding.  Eating a nutrient-dense diet and appropriate supplementation helps ensure you have the nutrition you need for balanced hormones and breast milk production. 

In addition, breastfeeding women require extra vitamin D, iron, omega-3s, and additional calories overall to meet their increased energy demands.

Bone Health

Increased levels of calcium and vitamin D support bone strength and density, which is crucial for women, especially as they age and enter their post-menopausal years. Prior to menopause,  maximizing peak bone mass and taking steps to maintain bone health during the premenopausal years are essential strategies for preventing osteoporosis.

During childhood and adolescence, individuals experience a rapid increase in bone mass and density, which continues until they reach their peak bone mass, usually in their late 20s or early 30s. Peak bone mass, which requires vitamin D, represents the highest amount of bone tissue a person can achieve, and it serves as a foundation for bone health throughout life.

As women get older, particularly during and after menopause, they are at a higher risk of developing osteoporosis due to a decrease in estrogen levels, which can affect bone density. Adequate calcium and vitamin D are essential for reducing this risk.

Regular intake of these nutrients can help slow down bone density loss and maintain healthier bones, which is crucial for preventing fractures and maintaining mobility in later years. Unfortunately, many adults lack vitamin D in their diets and have low vitamin D levels because they don't spend much time in the sun, which is the best source of vitamin D. 

While some vitamin D is found in eggs, oily fish (such as salmon, mackerel, herring, and sardines), red meat, and fortified foods like breakfast cereals and non-dairy milk alternatives, vitamin D from dietary sources is not always enough to meet people's needs. Supplementation, in addition to enough sunlight exposure (about 10 to 20 minutes per day without wearing sunscreen), can help women meet their needs. 

Mood Regulation

B vitamins, including B12, B6, and folate, play a role in mood regulation and may help manage stress, fatigue, and mood swings. These vitamins are known to support the nervous system and are involved in producing neurotransmitters, including serotonin and dopamine, which are crucial for maintaining a balanced mood. 

B vitamins can help support cognitive functions and manage stress levels and lethargy, which are often linked to mood disturbances.

Immune System Support

Vitamins such as vitamin C, selenium, vitamin E, and zinc can help bolster the immune system. These nutrients are needed to keep the body's defenses up, to help prevent autoimmunity, and to provide antioxidant support, aiding in cellular health and wound healing.

Thyroid Function Support

Iodine in prenatal vitamins is essential for thyroid health, which regulates metabolism, energy, motivation, and many other bodily functions. A well-functioning thyroid supports the HPA axis and overall hormonal balance.

Most prenatals contain inadequate selenium to balance iodine, meaning that it’s often necessary to choose a supplement that provides adequate iodine for thyroid health and for managing Hashimoto's and postpartum thyroiditis. 

In addition to iodine, the thyroid requires adequate iron, vitamin A, and B vitamins, which can be found in most prenatals.

Enhanced Skin Health and Hair and Nail Growth

Prenatals often contain a healthy amount of vitamins A, C, and E, as well as biotin and other B vitamins that can strengthen hair and nails, promoting their growth and health. These nutrients, especially vitamin C, as well as minerals like copper and manganese, can aid in collagen production to support the skin's texture and appearance.

Fertility Preparation

For those planning to conceive, prenatal vitamins can help ensure the body has the necessary nutrients for a healthy pregnancy. This is especially true of nutrients like folate/folic acid, iron, zinc, iodine, and calcium, which assist in healthy fetal growth and reduce the risk of issues reduce the risk of issues like pre-term birth or learning disabilities.

How Prenatals Support Preconception Health

Many mothers become nutrient-depleted during pregnancy, which is one reason why building nutrient stores prior to conception is highly beneficial. Taking prenatal vitamins during the preconception phase (prior to becoming pregnant) can be beneficial in several ways, such as increasing your overall nutrient status and providing key nutrients that are needed for normal fetal growth and development. 

One of the most important aspects of prenatal vitamins is that they can help fill nutritional gaps in a woman's diet, ensuring her body is well-prepared for the demands of pregnancy. By the time most people realize that they are pregnant, they've already been pregnant for several weeks; crucial aspects of embryological development take place within this window, which requires specific nutrients.

Ensuring a healthy nutrient status during this period can also play a significant role in implantation and prevention of early miscarriage.

Here's more about how prenatal vitamins can prepare your body for a healthy pregnancy.

Increases Folic Acid Intake

A significant difference between prenatal and regular multis is the amount of folate or folic acid that they provide. Most prenatal vitamins usually contain a higher dose of folic acid than regular multivitamins, as it supports the developing fetus. 

A general recommendation for women who are trying to conceive or who are pregnant is to consume DFE every day until at least week 12 of pregnancy.

Folate or folic acid, which is the synthetic version of folate, is essential for the proper development of the baby's brain and spinal cord. It plays a critical role in DNA synthesis and repair. Adequate levels of folic acid before conception and during early pregnancy can significantly reduce the risk of neural tube defects in the fetus.

Provides Iron

Prenatal vitamins often have more iron than regular multivitamins. Iron supports the increased blood volume in pregnant women and helps prevent anemia. Because iron is often lacking in women's diets, it's important to be sure enough is obtained during pregnancy. 

Iron supports the development of the placenta and fetus and helps maintain a healthy blood supply and normal energy levels. Iron can help to increase maternal red blood cell mass, which is crucial for oxygen transport to the fetus.

Can Help Curb Nausea

Vitamin B6, found in prenatals, can help to reduce morning sickness and nausea among pregnant women.

Supplies Calcium and Vitamin D

Vitamin D and calcium are crucial for the development of the baby's bones and teeth. Increasing intake of these nutrients can also aid in keeping a mother’s teeth in good shape and preventing issues like tooth loss and decay, which can affect some women who are nutrient-depleted.

Consuming enough vitamin D may also help reduce the risk of pregnancy complications, including preeclampsia, gestational diabetes, preterm birth, and C-section delivery.  

Unfortunately, research also indicates that more than one-third of pregnant women in the U.S. do not get enough vitamin D. Prenatal vitamins typically contain higher amounts of these nutrients than regular multivitamins to help reduce deficiencies.

Often Contain Omega-3s (Especially DHA)

Many prenatal vitamins include some DHA, an omega-3 fatty acid that’s essential for the development of the baby's brain and eyes. However, many do not contain enough to meet recommended omega-3 intakes, meaning an additional omega-3 supplement may be needed. 

Another issue is that omega-3s found within prenatals may oxidize (their chemical structure changes), leading them to be less beneficial. Therefore, I suggest taking a separate omega-3 supplement, such as Omega Plus, to meet your needs during pregnancy.

Additional Uses and Benefits (for Hair, Skin, and Nails)

Some women report cosmetic benefits from prenatal vitamins, such as stronger nails, healthier skin, and lustrous hair. This is likely due to the high levels of vitamins and minerals like biotin and vitamin E that benefit hair, skin, and nail health.

When it comes to skin health, here’s how prenatals may help:

  • Vitamins A, C, and E have antioxidant properties that help to protect the skin from damage.
  • Vitamin C is needed to help produce collagen protein, a structural protein that forms and repairs skin. 
  • By facilitating collagen synthesis, vitamins and minerals in prenatals may maintain the skin’s youthful elasticity and firmness.

Related: What to look for in a prenatal vitamin. 

Potential Cons and Considerations

While prenatal vitamins can offer numerous benefits, there are also potential drawbacks to consider. These types of concentrated supplements supply high amounts of certain nutrients that some people might not need or might experience side effects from.

Concerns with taking prenatal vitamins — especially when not pregnant, which means your nutrient needs are not as high — can include:

Excess Iron or Iron Overload

High levels of iron may cause gastrointestinal issues in some people, such as constipation or nausea. Too much iron can also potentially be harmful because iron can be deposited in organs like the liver and lead to an increased risk of certain health problem, including infections, as iron can contribute to the growth of certain types of bacteria.  Women who are not menstruating are at lower risk of iron deficiency anemia and, therefore, require less iron, such as a lower amount that is found in standard multivitamins (like my Women’s Twice Daily formula). To help prevent digestive upset, opt for the type of iron called ferrous bisglycinate chelate (the type found in my Prenatal Plus supplement).

Too much vitamin D

High doses of vitamin D over time can lead to excessive calcium absorption and elevated calcium levels, potentially causing side effects like nausea, poor appetite, and weakness. This is why when taking vitamin D3 it is recommended you also have K2 in the supplement. K2 enables the calcium to make its way to the bones instead of soft tissues, where it belongs.

Interactions with Medications

Prenatal vitamins can potentially interact with certain medications, such as blood thinners, thyroid hormones, and antibiotics, so it's important to consult with a healthcare provider before starting them if you take any medications.  Some mineral supplements may interact with many antibiotics in a way that reduces the level of the antibiotic in the body and makes the treatment less effective. Space antibiotics and supplements out by taking them at least two or three hours apart. In terms of the interaction with thyroid medications, this can happen when taking any minerals within several hours of thyroid medication, which is why these drugs are usually taken on an empty stomach, such as first thing in the morning, a few hours before eating.

Unnecessary nutrients

If you're not deficient in the nutrients provided by prenatal vitamins, taking them might not offer any additional benefits and could even lead to nutrient imbalances. Some minerals (such as zinc and copper), when taken in excessive amounts, compete for absorption with other minerals, meaning you might not absorb the minerals you need if you take too high of doses of some supplements. Using a prenatal with a balance of copper and zinc can help protect against this, but if you’re taking stand alone copper, for example, that could result in issues.

For instance, too much zinc can cause stomach upset, diarrhea, headaches, and copper deficiency. Too much calcium can lead to constipation and increase the risk of kidney disease. Excessive selenium can cause hair loss, muscle weakness, gastrointestinal upset, and nerve damage. The benefit of taking a multi or prenatal is that you won't risk mineral imbalances like you would when taking a standalone mineral supplement in higher dosages. However, if you have a nutrient-storage disease, like hemochromatosis or Wilson's disease, for example, then supplementing with minerals in any form may be a problem.

Interference with Lab Tests

Some nutrients, such as biotin, can skew certain lab test results. The solution is to avoid taking prenatals, especially those with lots of biotin, for two to three days prior to lab testing. 

Potential Side Effects of Prenatal Vitamins When Not Pregnant

The upper limit for any vitamin or mineral is the maximum daily amount that is likely to pose no risk of adverse effects for most healthy people. Exceeding the upper limit increases the risk of toxicity and side effects. If you’re taking a prenatal vitamin, along with other supplements containing high doses of fat-soluble nutrients or minerals, you may be at higher risk.

Below are possible side effects of prenatal vitamins to keep an eye out for:

  • Nausea and vomiting, especially when taken on an empty stomach
  • Constipation, such as due to a high intake of Iron and calcium
  • Diarrhea, such as due to a high intake of magnesium citrate or oxide. Opting for a prenatal with bioavailable forms of magnesium lowers this risk.
  • Changes in urine color due to the metabolism of riboflavin, which is normal 
  • Headaches and sleep problems
  • Interactions with medications
  • Side effects due to toxicity, namely vitamins A, D, K, and E, especially when taking other vitamins that have these in higher amounts

Always follow directions when taking supplements, including prenatal vitamins, to decrease the risk of experiencing adverse effects. If taking prenatal vitamins makes you nauseous, try taking them with a meal since supplements taken on an empty stomach are more likely to cause digestive upset.

Who Shouldn't Take Prenatal Vitamins

Certain individuals should avoid taking prenatal vitamins unless recommended by a healthcare provider. If you fall into one of the categories below, speak with your provider before beginning to take a prenatal regularly.

  • Those with vitamin or mineral overload: If you already have high levels of certain vitamins or minerals, additional supplementation could be harmful. Some vitamins and minerals can accumulate in the body to toxic levels if taken excessively. For example, too much iron or vitamin A can lead to liver damage and other health issues. Avoid taking multivitamins and prenatals if you have a known problem with certain levels of nutrients.
  • Those with specific medical conditions: Some health conditions may be exacerbated by the ingredients in prenatal vitamins. Conditions such as hemochromatosis (a condition causing iron overload) can be worsened by the high iron content in prenatal vitamins. Similarly, conditions like hyperparathyroidism, which leads to hypercalcemia (excess calcium), can be negatively impacted by the increased calcium in these supplements.
  • Those with kidney or liver issues: People with kidney or liver diseases need to be cautious, as these organs are crucial for processing and filtering vitamins and minerals. Overburdening these organs with high levels of supplements can lead to further complications.
  • Those taking certain medications: As mentioned, prenatal vitamins can interact with some medications. For example, vitamin K levels can affect blood thinners like warfarin. Certain medications can also affect the absorption of vitamins and minerals, potentially reducing the efficacy of either the medication or the supplement. For instance, some antibiotics can interact with calcium and other minerals, reducing the absorption of both the antibiotic and the mineral. You can continue to take minerals like calcium, but take them at least two hours after your medication, or take medications four to six hours after taking calcium and minerals. 

Overall, while prenatal vitamins can be beneficial, it's important for individuals to consider their current health status, nutrient levels, existing medical conditions, and any medications they are taking. This careful consideration helps prevent potential complications and ensures that the supplementation supports their health optimally.

Importance of Healthy Diet Along With Prenatals

Prenatal vitamins are intended to complement a healthy, nutrient-rich diet, not to be used as a substitute for eating well. In addition to taking a daily prenatal, women who are trying to conceive, are pregnant, or are simply looking to support their health should focus on the nutritious foods below. 

  • A wide variety of fruits and vegetables, including green leafy vegetables, citrus fruits, berries, broccoli, peppers, and others
  • Dried fruits in moderation
  • Grass-fed meats, poultry, and organ meats
  • Eggs
  • Oily fish
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Milk, cheese, and yogurt
  • Tofu
  • Whole grains
  • Legumes and bean

For more help starting and sticking to a healthy diet, check out my Hormone Balancing Meal Plan.

Key Takeaways on Benefits of Prenatals When Not Pregnant

In summary, prenatal vitamins are specifically formulated to support the health of pregnant women and their developing babies. They typically contain higher levels of certain nutrients that are crucial during pregnancy. 

While prenatal vitamins are designed for pregnant women, they can offer benefits for preconception care, addressing nutrient deficiencies, and even improving hair, skin, and nail health. However, it's important to weigh these benefits against potential cons and consult with a healthcare provider to determine if prenatal vitamins are right for you when not pregnant.

If you’re looking for a prenatal vitamin, consider my Prenatal Plus supplement, which is a specialized formula designed to meet women’s nutritional needs, such as for B vitamins, folate, minerals, and antioxidants. This supplement was designed to provide comprehensive thyroid support, including for women who are pregnant, postpartum, or in other stages of life, with a specialized balance of iodine and selenium, as well as L-5-Methyltetrahydrofolate, the active form of folate to ensure it's absorbable.

My nutrient-dense formula (which is third-party tested, screened for heavy metals, non-GMO, and made without gluten and soy) also provides support for bone, brain, and heart health — thanks to the inclusion of antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals, including calcium and vitamin K. These benefits apply to women of all ages, whether they're pregnant, breastfeeding, or not.

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About The Author

Dr. Jolene Brighten

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Dr. Jolene Brighten, NMD, is a women’s hormone expert and prominent leader in women’s medicine. As a licensed naturopathic physician who is board certified in naturopathic endocrinology, she takes an integrative approach in her clinical practice. A fierce patient advocate and completely dedicated to uncovering the root cause of hormonal imbalances, Dr. Brighten empowers women worldwide to take control of their health and their hormones. She is the best selling author of Beyond the Pill and Healing Your Body Naturally After Childbirth. Dr. Brighten is an international speaker, clinical educator, medical advisor within the tech community, and considered a leading authority on women’s health. She is a member of the MindBodyGreen Collective and a faculty member for the American Academy of Anti Aging Medicine. Her work has been featured in the New York Post, Forbes, Cosmopolitan, Huffington Post, Bustle, The Guardian, Sports Illustrated, Elle, and ABC News. Read more about me here.