Should I take prenatal vitamins when I’m not pregnant?

There’s quite an appeal, and a slew of old wives’ tales, attached to prenatal vitamins. Many women have come to believe that taking them, pregnant or not, will help their hair and nails grow faster, and even give them an extra dose of healthy and necessary nutrients. But the truth is much more complicated. women’s day spoke with medical experts to learn more about the pros and cons of taking prenatal vitamins when you’re not expecting them.

What are prenatal vitamins?

So what exactly are prenatal vitamins? “The vitamin and mineral dosages in prenatal vitamins are the same as those found in regular multivitamins, but the dosages are higher because the body’s needs are higher during pregnancy,” says Dr. Lucky Sekhon, Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility Specialist at Reproductive Medicine. Associates of NY, tells women’s day. “They are meant to optimize the growth and development of the fetus. The main difference is that you get a folic acid supplement, usually around 400 mcg a day. Prenatal vitamins should ideally be taken three months before you get pregnant, but even taking them just a month before can significantly reduce the risk of neural tube defects and spinal cord problems, such as spina bifida.”

What do prenatal vitamins contain?

All prenatal vitamins contain different combinations of micronutrients that aim to ensure that a pregnant woman and her baby get all the vitamins and minerals they need. However, pregnant women are not the only ones who can take prenatal consultations. They are also recommended for people trying to get pregnant or breastfeeding. Every person is different, which is why it’s essential to find a specific prenatal vitamin that works for you.

Dr. Banafsheh Bayati, MD, OB/GYN, FACOG is co-founder of Perelel Medical, the first and only vitamin brand founded by OB/GYN. Dr. Bayati explains that Perelel formulates prenatal formulas that change with a woman’s needs from conception and through each trimester of pregnancy and postpartum.

“We have identified the specific micronutrients and their appropriate RDAs (Recommended Dietary Allowances) for women outside of pregnancy, pregnancy, and lactation stages as determined by the Institute of Medicine’s Diet and Nutrition Council (IOM), the RDA for many micronutrients, including all B vitamins, iron, vitamin D, zinc and selenium increase during pregnancy,” Dr. Bayati explains. “Thus, the IOM recommends a multivitamin daily prenatal care before conception and during pregnancy. This is specifically to ensure adequate folate for rapid cell growth necessary for fetal and placental development as well as an increased need for iron supplementation.”

What is the difference between prenatal vitamins and regular vitamins?

Although prenatal vitamins and regular vitamins work the same way — to supply your body with micronutrients it may be lacking — there are key differences between the two, especially when it comes to ingredients. For example, as an article on Mom.com explains, there is a specific amount of folic acid and iron that pregnant women are supposed to get in their diet. A prenatal vitamin ensures that these exact levels are achieved, whereas a regular multivitamin might have some amount of folic acid or iron, but necessarily sufficient to reach the recommended threshold for pregnant women.

As always, it is important that you consult with a health care provider or family physician before taking any over-the-counter medication or beginning a vitamin regimen. After all, what works for one body doesn’t work for all. But if you have lingering questions about taking prenatal vitamins when you’re not pregnant, here’s what you need to know:

Patricia J. Callender