Prenatal vitamins aren’t just for women who are pregnant. There are many health benefits packed in these dietary supplements, and women who are not pregnant can benefit from using them, too. Read on for six reasons why you should consider taking prenatal vitamins when not pregnant.
Prenatal Vitamins Overview
If you’re interested in taking a dietary supplement but are not sure about the difference between multivitamins and prenatal vitamins, you may be unaware of how prenatal vitamins can benefit women regardless of whether or not they are currently pregnant. Multivitamins are designed to meet the needs of the average adult, and some are specially formulated to meet the needs of the average male or average female specifically. These vitamins are formulated based on the daily recommended intake for adults in general. On the other hand, prenatal vitamins are specifically formulated to meet the needs of pregnant women. Pregnant women have unique nutritional needs in order to support a healthy pregnancy, so they require more nutrients than at other life stages. Prenatal vitamins include larger amounts of some vitamins and minerals, such as folate, calcium, and iron, and exclude other vitamins and minerals, such as vitamin A, from their formulas entirely based on the specific requirements of pregnant women. However, just because prenatal vitamins are marketed for use during pregnancy doesn’t mean they can’t be useful when you’re not pregnant.
Six Reasons to Take Prenatal Vitamins Before You Get Pregnant
Pregnancy is a unique stage in a woman’s life, and her nutritional needs during this time are different than at any other time. Not only do pregnant women need enough vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients to support their own health, they also must take in enough nutrients to support their developing babies. However, the time to start taking prenatal vitamins is actually before you get pregnant, and regardless of pregnancy status, women can benefit from taking prenatal vitamins because of the following reasons:
You can get pregnant at any time. The most critical reason to take prenatal vitamins when you’re not pregnant is because if you are in your childbearing years and are able to conceive, you can theoretically get pregnant at any time, even when taking birth control. After all, the only form of birth control that is 100 percent effective besides abstinence is a hysterectomy, which means there is always a chance of pregnancy. Most women do not find out they are pregnant until at least four weeks into the pregnancy, at which point the baby’s development would already have been impacted by any nutritional deficiencies.
Your baby needs folate from Day 1. As noted above, most women don’t know they are pregnant until at least four weeks into their pregnancy, at which point neural tube development has already begun. The neural tube consists of the brain and spine, and a folate deficiency can cause serious birth defects that impact these critical structures, including spina bifida and anencephaly. Women have an increased need for folate during pregnancy in order to support healthy development of the neural tube, and women who have a deficiency may take several months of supplementation in order to bring their levels up high enough to support a healthy pregnancy. Therefore, doctors recommend that women start using prenatal vitamins at least three months before trying to conceive, with some recommending that all women who can become pregnant take prenatal vitamins regardless of whether they are trying to conceive or not.
Calcium prevents bone density loss. Women are at increased risk of experiencing a loss of bone density compared to men, and bone density loss is more likely to occur during pregnancy. Prenatal vitamins offer a higher amount of calcium in order to support the development of strong bones and teeth in a growing fetus, which means they can also be helpful for women who are not pregnant but want to support strong bones and bone density. A developing baby will leach calcium from its mother if it does not receive an adequate supply, so women who aren’t pregnant but could become pregnant in the future can benefit from taking prenatal vitamins when they are not pregnant because the vitamins can help prevent a calcium deficiency.
Iron deficiency anemia can be avoided. An estimated 9 to 12 percent of non-Hispanic white women and approximately 20 percent of Black and Mexican-American women suffer from iron deficiency anemia each year. Iron deficiency anemia is a health condition that occurs when women do not receive iron, which causes the body to be incapable of producing enough hemoglobin, which is a substance in red blood cells that enables them to carry oxygen. Iron deficiency anemia leaves people feeling fatigued and out of breath, and it can be serious. Without enough iron, pregnant women are unable to deliver enough oxygen to the growing fetus, which is harmful to the baby and can be very dangerous. With iron deficiency anemia being a relatively common condition and most prenatal vitamins containing iron, women who are not pregnant can benefit from taking a prenatal vitamin, particularly if they are considering becoming pregnant in the future.
Your hair and nails will thank you. Prenatal vitamins typically contain biotin, a B-complex vitamin that contributes to healthy and strong hair and nails. Many women report that their hair and nails have never looked better or been stronger than while pregnant thanks to the prenatal vitamins they take. Whether you are pregnant or not, everyone can benefit from healthier, shinier, stronger hair and nails.
Vitamin B-12 deficiency contributes to birth problems. Women who have low levels of vitamin B-12 are more likely to experience birth problems, including premature birth and low birth weight. Vitamin B-12 deficiency is relatively common, particularly among women who are vegans or vegetarians, as it is difficult to obtain large amounts of the nutrient from plant-based sources. Women who experience a vitamin B-12 deficiency commonly experience low energy, fatigue, shortness of breath, lightheadedness, and heart palpitations.
Essential Nutrients for Prenatal Vitamins
When choosing a prenatal vitamin, it is critical to read the labels and make sure you are choosing a vitamin that contains all of the necessary vitamins and minerals required to address any existing nutritional deficiencies you may have and support a future pregnancy. A good prenatal vitamin should contain:
Folate (vitamin B9): Folate is arguably the most important ingredient in your prenatal vitamin, so look for a formula that contains at least 400 to 600 mcg of folate, also known as vitamin B9. Women need plenty of folate before they conceive in order to ensure that the neural tube, which begins to form during the first month of pregnancy, develops properly. Therefore, women should take a vitamin containing adequate amounts of folate before they begin trying to conceive or if there is a possibility of conception.
Calcium: Growing babies need calcium in order to develop strong bones and teeth. In fact, this nutrient is so essential that a fetus will leach calcium from its mother in order to meet its own needs for the mineral. Therefore, pregnant women need to have an adequate supply of calcium in order to avoid compromising their own bone density. Look for a prenatal vitamin that contains at least 150 mcg of calcium to supplement the amount that you receive from your daily diet.
Iron: Look for a prenatal vitamin that contains at least 30 mcg of iron in order to ensure that iron deficiency anemia does not prevent you from being able to deliver an adequate supply of oxygen to your baby. Iron deficiency anemia is common in both pregnant women and women who are not pregnant, so most women can benefit from iron supplement regardless of what stage of life they are in.
Vitamin B6: Taking a prenatal vitamin that contains at least 2 mg of vitamin B6 during the first trimester experience can lower your likelihood of experiencing nausea or morning sickness.
Iodine: Choose a prenatal vitamin that contains at least 150 mcg of iodine, which supports a developing baby’s thyroid and brain development.
Vitamin B-12: Inadequate levels of vitamin B-12 can cause women to give birth prematurely, contribute to low birth weights, and contribute to the development of congenital birth defects. Prenatal vitamins should contain at least 6 mcg of vitamin B12 for women who receive vitamin B-12 through their diets. Women who adhere to a plant-based diet or are deficient in vitamin B-12 may need to increase the amount of vitamin B12 they consume during pregnancy.
Choline: Scientists have recognized the importance of choline fairly recently; this nutrient supports brain development in growing fetuses and cognitive function in women who consume it. Women who are pregnant should consume at least 450 mg of choline per day according to the Office of Dietary Supplements.
Vitamin D: Approximately 40 percent of the population is deficient in vitamin D, but this nutrient is essential for the development of a baby’s bones and to prevent diminished bone density in pregnant women. A good prenatal vitamin should contain at least 600 IU, or 15 mcg, of vitamin D in order to ensure that you and your baby are receiving an adequate amount of this vitamin.