Can You Take Prenatal Vitamins Without Being Pregnant?

Woman taking a vitamin

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From tossing back Flintstones gummy vitamins as kids to scouring the endless supplement shelves at health food stores as adults, we’ve long worked to achieve a balanced diet filled with enough vitamins and minerals for optimal health. Likewise, we’re well-versed in the benefits of taking a prenatal vitamin before and during pregnancy. But admittedly, all those bottles on the shelf start to blend together after a while, as do many of the ingredients.

Here, we’re breaking down the difference between prenatal vitamins and regular multivitamins, plus when it's safe (and encouraged) to take one or the other.

What's in a Prenatal Vitamin?

Prenatal vitamins are formulated to support a pregnant body’s nutritional needs. “Your calorie and nutrient requirements increase during pregnancy and the average diet can leave gaps in your pregnancy nutritional requirements. This means you are missing out on vital nutrients your body needs to function and develop properly,” explains women’s sexual health expert Sherry Ross, MD, author of She-ology and The She-quel. “Taking a complete prenatal vitamin serves as a perfect insurance policy, guaranteeing you get what is missing from your diet and satisfying the additional nutrient recommendations for pregnancy.”

According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), those key nutrients include folic acid, iron, calcium, vitamin D, choline, omega-3 fatty acids, B vitamins and vitamin C. “These specific vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants are needed to help support the growth and development of a healthy baby, specifically spine, bone, brain, and red blood cell development,” says Dr. Ross.

Of all these nutrients, folic acid is one of the most crucial to ensuring the healthy growth of your baby. “Making sure that your prenatal vitamin contains at least 400mcg to 1mg of folic acid is important,” Dr. Ross says. “Folic acid has been shown to reduce the incidence of spinal defects, AKA neural tube defects.” These include spina bifida and anencephaly.

Iron is important as well. “The addition of iron is essential in carrying additional oxygen to a growing baby and placenta,” says Dr. Ross. “The maternal blood volume increases by 50%, so adding additional iron is critical.”

How Is a Prenatal Vitamin Different From a Regular Multivitamin?

You won’t find many differences between the ingredient lists on a prenatal vitamin and a women’s multivitamin. What you will see are different amounts of certain nutrients.

“The main difference between a prenatal vitamin and a multivitamin is the amount of folic acid and iron,” says Sara Twogood, MD, a board certified OB/GYN in Los Angeles and co-founder of Female Health Education. “Multivitamins that are formulated toward females of reproductive age often do include folic acid and iron,” she adds, though they will be in smaller amounts. Omega-3 fatty acids and choline are also often present in prenatal vitamins and not always in regular multivitamins, where calcium might be limited or left out of a prenatal vitamin and assumed to be taken separately.

Below, see a comparison of the amounts of nutrients present in three vitamin products from the same company.

Folic Acid Iron Omega-3s Choline
One A Day Prenatal Advanced   800mcg  27mg  235mg  110mg
One A Day Women's Complete Multivitamin  400mcg 18mg  0mg  0mg 
One A Day Women's 50+ Complete Multivitamin  400mcg 0mg  0mg  0mg 

Is It Safe to Take a Prenatal Vitamin When You Aren't Pregnant? 

Almost everyone can benefit from taking a daily multivitamin, says Dr. Twogood. “Most of our nutrients should come from the food and drink we put into our bodies, but our diets are not perfect. Everyone has days with poor food choices.” If you want to take a prenatal vitamin in place of a regular multivitamin, Dr. Twogood says there are no risks to doing so, especially if you think you might become pregnant in the future. “Many pregnancies are unplanned, so already taking a prenatal vitamin as a multivitamin can be helpful,” she adds.

Risks do start to appear, however, if you are taking other vitamin and/or mineral supplements along with a prenatal vitamin. “With vitamins and minerals, taking higher quantities is generally not recommended since it may have harmful effects on other organs in your body,” says Dr. Ross.

One of the biggest examples of this is iron, which is present in large quantities in prenatal vitamins and can cause upset stomach, constipation, nausea, abdominal pain, vomiting, diarrhea, or more extreme problems if too much is consumed. The upper limit of daily iron intake for non-pregnant adults is 45mg, and prenatal vitamins typically have 27mg. So if you eat a lot of iron-rich foods, such as red meat, poultry and beans, and you are not pregnant, you may want to stick to a regular multivitamin that contains less iron.

Likewise, someone who is not pregnant may experience some unpleasant side effects from the high concentrations of pregnancy vitamins. “Many women taking the vitamin and mineral enhanced prenatal formulation may experience nausea, constipation, and diarrhea, which may discourage its use,” Dr. Ross says.

Additional Considerations When Choosing Between a Prenatal and Regular Vitamin

When deciding whether to take a prenatal or a regular multivitamin, there are a few additional factors to think about. First is whether you might become pregnant in the relatively near future. “It’s best to take prenatal vitamins for at least three to six months before conception,” says Dr. Ross. “Ideally, you want to be consistent in taking a prenatal vitamin for optimal health benefits for a healthy pregnancy.”  

It could also be helpful to start a prenatal vitamin before you start trying to become pregnant to make sure it agrees with you. The amounts of some of the nutrients in the vitamin can vary, as will the formulation.

Absorbability of the nutrients is also worth considering, as you don’t want to spend money on vitamins your body is unable to utilize. One easy test: Look at your urine. If it is bright yellow, that could mean that you are taking more vitamins than your body needs, and it is excreting them into your pee. Or if you are only taking the recommended amounts, it could be a sign that your chosen multivitamin is not breaking down quickly enough as it moves through your GI tract, and you may want to choose a different formulation.

In any case, it’s worth speaking with a doctor or healthcare provider if you have questions about the multivitamin that is best for you. “Don’t assume any amount of vitamins and minerals is fine,” says Dr. Twogood. What works well for one person may not work well for another.

3 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. "Nutrition During Pregnancy Frequently Asked Questions."

  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "Folic Acid Recommendations."

  3. National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements. Iron

By Alyssa Sybertz
Alyssa has been writing about health and wellness since 2013. Her work has appeared in print in publications like FIRST for Women, Woman's World, and Closer Weekly and online at places like,, and She is the author of The OMAD Diet and has served as editor-in-chief for two magazines about intermittent fasting.