Prenatal vitamins offer critical nutrients to women who are pregnant, trying to conceive or breast-feeding. You might think all the extra nutrients would benefit you even if you don't have a bun in the oven; however, prenatal vitamins are specially formulated to meet the needs of new mothers and mothers-to-be, not the average woman. You're best off speaking with your doctor about a multivitamin that is appropriate for your needs.
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Purpose of Prenatal Vitamins
During pregnancy, your nutritional needs increase because your baby takes nutrients from your existing stores and from what you eat. Folic acid, calcium and iron are especially important during pregnancy. In "Fit Pregnancy," Dr. Robert Greene of the CNY Fertility Center in New York suggests starting a prenatal vitamin about three months before you start trying to get pregnant to facilitate egg maturation. Neural-tube defects occur in the initial month or two of pregnancy -- sometimes before you know you are pregnant -- which means you should also have a strong base of nutrients, particularly folic acid, early on.
Too Much of Certain Nutrients
If you aren't pregnant, the higher dose of iron in a prenatal pill may be too much for you and lead to side effects such as constipation, nausea and vomiting. Too much folic acid can mask deficiencies of other nutrients, namely B-12. If you are chronically deficient in B-12, you may experience low energy, memory loss and neurological symptoms, such as tingling and numbness in your extremities. An article published in a 2006 issue of the "American Journal of Clinical Nutrition" also found an association between high supplemental folic acid intake and increased risk for breast cancer in post-menopausal women.
Some women may boast that prenatal vitamins give them stronger nails, silky hair and smooth skin. No scientific evidence links these benefits to taking prenatal vitamins when not pregnant. If you fear you're vitamin-deficient, consult your health care provider. A multivitamin designed for women of your age is likely to be more appropriate.
After Giving Birth
Once you've given birth, your doctor may recommend you continue to take prenatal vitamins as long as you're breast-feeding. During this busy time, you may not be as focused on your nutrient intake, and making breast milk requires optimal nutrition. Breast-feeding mothers often need higher amounts of B vitamins, as well as vitamins A and C. Folate is excreted in breast milk in high amounts. Prenatal vitamins are usually high in this nutrient.