Should You Take Prenatal Vitamins Even If You're Not Pregnant?

Photographed by Megan Madden.
If you're tempted to swap your go-to vitamins with prenatal ones, we get it. Something about them just feels more important, right? Plus, so many pregnant people just swear that those supplements made their hair shinier and nails stronger. But there are a few reasons why you might want to reconsider that plan.

Let's start with what makes prenatal vitamins different from your run-of-the-mill multivitamin: They contain significantly higher amounts of certain nutrients that are especially important for fetal development. That usually includes iron (necessary to prevent anemia during pregnancy) and folic acid (which prevents some serious birth defects). Some prenatal vitamins also contain omega-3 fatty acids, which may aid in fetal brain development.

All of that clearly seems important if you're actually expecting. However, if you're not yet pregnant but you're trying to become pregnant, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend increasing your intake of folic acid now, because it's most necessary during the very early stages of pregnancy. Usually, once you tell your doctor you're trying to conceive (TTC), she will either prescribe supplements or give you instructions for buying the right ones on your own.

But if you're neither pregnant nor actively TTC, that advice is very different: Don't take 'em, says Katherine Zeratsky, RD, at the Mayo Clinic. Although it may seem like you're just getting even more of that good stuff, it's possible to have too much. If you consistently consume more of these nutrients than you need, they can cause serious issues (e.g. having too much iron in your body can cause dangerous buildups in your organs). So one pill isn't gonna hurt you. But if you're not pregnant and you're not likely to become pregnant, you shouldn't regularly be taking prenatal vitamins.

You might be wondering, "What if I've been TTC for a really long time?" Because there are definite pros and cons, it's best to check in with your doctor to figure out the best move for you supplement-wise.

All that said, unless you're treating a specific nutrient deficiency (with the guidance of your doctor, please), you probably don't need to be taking multivitamins anyways. So talk to your doc if you're concerned, but otherwise, feel free to skip the supplement aisle entirely.
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