The first piece of advice that pops up after you find out you’re pregnant is often to take a prenatal vitamin. Prenatal vitamins have a strong reputation for promoting health and wellness by helping to meet a woman’s high nutrient needs during pregnancy.
What if you aren’t pregnant? Can you still take them to support a healthy diet? By understanding what prenatal vitamins are and what they have to offer, you can determine whether or not these popular supplements are right for you.
What Is a Prenatal Vitamin?
A prenatal vitamin is a type of multivitamin that provides a wide range of key nutrients to help support the growth and development of a baby before and after birth, as well as to support a lactating mother. They make an excellent supplement to healthy habits and a balanced diet throughout pregnancy, and many OB/GYNs recommend taking them. Prenatal vitamins often focus on containing most, if not all, of the following nutrients:
- Folic acid
- Vitamin A
- B vitamins
- Vitamin C
- Vitamin D
- Vitamin E
What Are the Benefits of Prenatal Vitamins During Pregnancy?
Pregnant women are highly encouraged to take a prenatal vitamin as soon as they become pregnant, if not before. Prenatal multivitamins are excellent for supporting women with proper nutrition during pregnancy, providing many of the nutrients that are necessary for supporting a growing baby. Throughout pregnancy, the body’s need for nutrients like iron and folic acid jumps considerably. Prenatal vitamins help to meet this demand and support a healthy pregnancy.
Experts recommend taking prenatal vitamins at least a month before conception even happens to help your body develop sufficient levels of the essential nutrients they contain. The first trimester of pregnancy features some of the most important parts of the development process, so it is important to take the multivitamin early.
The brain and spinal cord begin to develop within the first 12 weeks and require nutrients like omega-3s and iron to build the necessary cells. To help support the rest of the development process, you should continue to take prenatal vitamins throughout the duration of the pregnancy.
Can Prenatal Vitamins Help When You Aren’t Pregnant?
Although they obviously offer many benefits during pregnancy, prenatal vitamins offer some of their most crucial benefits before and after pregnancy. For example, general guidelines suggest taking prenatal vitamins for at least six months after birth, which helps to provide enough nutrients during breastfeeding and restore important nutrients that may have been depleted in the body during pregnancy.
However, what if you are not even thinking about pregnancy? As it turns out, there are still some potential health benefits if you don’t have a little one on the way. Prenatal vitamins have developed a reputation for supporting hair growth and stronger nails, but there has not been much evidence to support this as a direct result of taking prenatal vitamins. In general, though, better nutrition is associated with healthier hair and nails.
While the magic benefits for your hair and nails may not be true, there may still be some benefits of prenatal vitamins if they are right for you. Keep in mind that everyone is different and has different nutritional needs.
Because of the high levels of nutrients in prenatal vitamins, the benefits are most pronounced when the multivitamin is being used to address a nutritional gap. If you are missing out on important nutrients in your diet, then, like any multivitamin, prenatal vitamins may be able to help.
For example, nutrients like iron, vitamin B12, and omega-3s can be difficult for some people to obtain in their everyday diet. Meanwhile, others experiencing low iron levels may struggle with absorbing the nutrient and need a supplement that provides higher amounts.
Altogether, prenatal vitamins can help to support healthy nutrient levels. Still, only your doctor can help you determine which nutrients you may be lacking and whether you should supplement them. Therefore, you should talk to your doctor to see if a prenatal vitamin fits your needs.
Are There Side Effects of Taking a Prenatal Vitamin When Not Pregnant?
Prenatal vitamins are generally safe, but they can result in some side effects when not used properly. The most significant risk that comes with prenatal vitamins is that they are meant to support a mother and a growing child, so they contain higher levels of nutrients than a typical multivitamin. If your body is not in need of some of the vitamins or minerals, then consuming high levels can cause them to build up in your body and cause potential side effects.
For example, the recommended daily iron intake for pregnant women is around twice as much as the average adult’s. Consuming this much extra iron daily can lead to side effects like constipation, nausea, vomiting, and more.
As with any supplement, you should consult your healthcare provider to determine if a prenatal vitamin is a good idea for you and what you should consider before taking one. They can also help you determine what ingredients matter the most for you.
What Should You Look for in a Prenatal Vitamin?
Yes, prenatal vitamins can provide many benefits, but not all options are the same. Like all supplements, their benefits come down to the ingredients. That said, in your search for an effective prenatal vitamin, you should look for the following ingredients.
Folic acid is a type of B vitamin used to make new cells. It is a crucial nutrient for anyone, but it is especially vital for pregnant women to develop new cells and support the healthy development of the neural tube. During pregnancy, women are advised to consume anywhere between 400 and 800 micrograms (mcg) of folate or folic acid.
Iron helps to support healthy levels of red blood cells in the body. During pregnancy, the body needs to produce more blood to transport oxygen and nutrients to the fetus. As a necessary building block for these vital cells, iron is crucial for meeting the extra demand for blood to ensure healthy blood flow and nutrient transfer. Women generally need about 30 mg of iron each day throughout pregnancy.
Found in brain and eye cells, docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) plays an important role in fetal development. DHA is especially crucial during the first few weeks of pregnancy when the brain and spinal cord is developing, but it is vital for development throughout childhood. DHA also promotes a wide range of health benefits for adults, from supporting healthy cognitive function and memory to supporting healthy eyes.
Many people miss out on DHA in their diets, so supplementation is important, as the average adult should obtain between 200 to 500 mg of the diet on a daily basis. During pregnancy, general guidelines sit closer to the range of 500 to 800 mg.
What Is DHA?
DHA is one of the most valuable nutrients found in a prenatal vitamin that can benefit anyone, pregnant or not. DHA is a type of omega-3 fatty acid that is essential in the body. In general, omega-3 fatty acids play an important role in forming the building blocks of cell membranes and influencing how cells interact with each other — altogether, helping to promote healthy bodily function.
During pregnancy, DHA is vital, helping to support healthy brain and eye development. Making up a key part of brain cells, DHA helps to build and support a healthy nervous system from childhood through adulthood. For women who are not pregnant, DHA still provides valuable support for the brain, supporting healthy cognitive function.
When combined with eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), another omega-3 fatty acid, DHA helps to promote emotional wellness and a healthy mood. This pair can also help to support a healthy heart, healthy blood pressure, and healthy cholesterol levels.
Because of its many potential benefits, DHA makes for an excellent addition to a prenatal vitamin. DHA is also difficult to obtain in a standard diet since there are few sources of the nutrient. DHA omega-3 fatty acids are found in marine foods like fish and algae. However, the risks of consuming marine contaminants through fish are enough to make people wary about obtaining their omega-3s from fish oil or eating ocean creatures.
Algae makes for an excellent alternative to consuming fish. Algae-based omega-3s are excellent for providing the benefits of essential fatty acids without the risks. During pregnancy, an algae-based prenatal vitamin is an excellent way to get the DHA omega-3s you need in addition to several other vital nutrients.
If you are considering taking a prenatal multivitamin for DHA but already have sufficient levels of the other nutrients, then you can also turn to a DHA-specific algae-based supplement.
Choose a Prenatal Vitamin That Gives You Everything You Need
Prenatal vitamins are packed with nutrients, but their benefits may be a bit overstated for women who are not pregnant unless they need higher amounts of these nutrients. Before you commit to taking a prenatal multivitamin, you should talk to your doctor and make sure you are finding a formula that is right for you.
At iwi life, we are proud to offer a prenatal vitamin that gives you all the nutrients you need from a multivitamin and more. Our prenatal formula contains iron, folic acid, vitamins A through E, and valuable DHA omega-3s. Check out our prenatal vitamin for yourself to see all of the potential benefits that come with it.
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