Everyone wonders how important it is to take a multi-vitamin. It’s for good reason, too; there has been conflicting information on their efficacy. Now throw in pregnancy and the stakes go up for most people. Everyone who’s planning to have children, or who have an impending birth, wants to make absolutely certain to have the healthiest baby and the easiest birth possible. But does a multivitamin supplement fit into the picture?
More than 20 million babies are born each year in the world with low birth weight. I’ll spare any soon-to-be parents reading stats on infant deaths, but more than a third are thought to be as a result of malnutrition. Minerals such as iron and zinc, and vitamins like vitamin A, B6, and B12 are common deficiencies. Now malnutrition may be a more significant factor to infants in places where the malnutrition of the parents are also a problem, but inadequate meat intake, infections, and other causes make prenatal nutrition important anywhere. Having a good nutritional insurance policy is a good thing, right?
It seems that science would agree. A recent review in the Nutrition Journal looked at 17 studies that examined prenatal weight and mortality and neonatal weight and mortality in supplement takers versus non-supplement takers. They found many results in favor of prenatal supplementation.
Calcium supplements alone seemed to significantly reduce by as much as half the incidence of pre-eclampsia, a condition that can progress with fatal consequences for mother and child. Supplementing with a multivitamin that includes both vitamins and minerals was shown across several studies to reduce the risk of death both pre- and postnatal, and improve birth weight. Some of the studies compared a multivitamin to a more traditional iron-folate supplement and the multi- typically outperformed the iron supplement. And for those couples planning a pregnancy. Taking a multivitamin supplement was shown to increase fertility as well.
Now the authors of the review don’t work for supplement companies, which would have been a giant red flag, and they did mention some modest potential competing evidence. Most of the competing evidence had to do with just how effective supplements were, and some questionable findings about potential negative effects like pre-term birth. Typically, some of these results need to be reviewed in greater depth.
To keep future children and expecting mothers healthy is one of the most important facets of nutrition, and one that I have a great personal interest in as a nutritionist. Reviews like this one go a long way to showing us how to achieve a goal of prenatal health. It does look like a high quality multivitamin can be an important part of that goal.
1. Taddese Zerfu, et. al., “Micronutrients and pregnancy; effect of supplementation on pregnancy and pregnancy outcomes: a systematic review,” Nutrition Journal 2013, 12:20
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