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This Is What Happens If You Take Prenatal Vitamins When You're Not Pregnant

Here’s what the experts have to say.

If you’re pregnant, then you already know the importance of taking a prenatal vitamin; it’s just about the first thing the nurse will tell you when you call to schedule your first pregnancy appointment. If you’re not expecting, there are reasons you might be wondering if you can take prenatal vitamins when you’re not pregnant. Maybe you’re hoping to get some of the shiny hair and strong nails common among pregnant women (sorry to burst your bubble, but that’s more due to hormones than it is vitamins) or maybe you think if it’s safe for pregnancy, it’s safe for you too.

Here, we spoke to two OB/GYNs on what happens if you take prenatal vitamins when you’re not pregnant.

Can I take prenatal vitamins if I’m not pregnant?

First things first, there is one very good reason you would choose to take prenatals when you’re not pregnant, and that’s if you’re hoping to become pregnant within the next three or so months. “Prenatal vitamins are safe to take when not pregnant, and it is in fact desired to start prenatals prior to pregnancy,” Monique Brotman, board-certified OB/GYN, tells Romper.

However, if you’re not pregnant, and you’re not breastfeeding or trying to conceive, there’s no real reason why it would make sense to take these supplements, though it’s probably basically safe (barring some rare events).

Side effects of taking prenatals while pregnant

“Prenatal vitamins are specifically formulated for pregnant women, breastfeeding women, or for women who are trying to conceive,” Kecia Gaither, MD, MPH, FACOG, double board-certified in OB/GYN and Maternal Fetal Medicine tells Romper. She says the three main nutrients a prenatal usually has is folic acid, calcium, and iron (some skip iron because it can be tough on the stomach).

“Women who aren't within the above named categories [TTC, pregnant, nursing] should consult with their physicians as to whether supplementation of these specific nutrients is required, based on underlying comorbidities,” Gaither says. “As a general rule, unless you aren’t within the cohort so mentioned, you should be acquiring all the needed nutrients from a healthy diet. High levels of certain nutrients over a protracted period of time may be more harmful than helpful.” For example, and this is rare, but if you’re not pregnant, getting too much folic acid could potentially mask signs of a vitamin B12 deficiency.

If you’re not eating a lot, and thinking the prenatal will supply you with the nutrients you need, you’ll quickly find yourself lacking is essential nutrients, as even prenatals contain only a fraction of the nutritional needs you need per day. On the flipside, (and this is why it’s not recommended that pregnant women take two prenatals the next day if they accidentally forget to take it the day before) taking too many could result in stomach trouble, especially for fat-soluble vitamins (A,D,E and K) which are found in prenatals.

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Benefits of prenatal vitamins

“Prenatal vitamins help with overall health and wellness making sure that all essential vitamins and minerals are ingested,” Brotman tells Romper. While you don’t need a prenatal vitamin if you’re not pregnant, nursing, or trying to conceive, there are big benefits to taking prenatals daily if you are.

“In order to reduce the risk of having a child with neural tube defects, it is advised that women who are trying to become pregnant take 400-800 micrograms of the [folic acid] daily,” Gaither tells Romper. Iron supports the development of the placenta, and Gaither says the recommended intake of iron is 27 mg per day. “It's important in the production of red blood cells, and too little reserve can result in iron deficiency anemia.” As for calcium, she says that it’s important for bone development in the fetus and pregnant women require about 1000 mg/day. You may notice your prenatal only has 200 or 300 mg which is because the rest of the daily requirement should be met through diet.

If you accidentally buy prenatals and you’re not pregnant or you have some leftover from when you were pregnant, you’re probably wondering if you can take prenatals when you’re not pregnant. It’s not the end of the world to take them, but you won’t get any real benefit other than what you would from any other vitamin. Plus, prenatals are often more expensive than their counterparts, so it just doesn’t really make sense.


Kecia Gaither, MD, MPH, FACOG, double board-certified in OB/GYN and Maternal Fetal Medicine

Monique Brotman, board-certified OB/GYN