Use of multivitamins during pregnancy comes under scrutiny

Pregnant women would be better advised to improve their diet and take folic acid and vitamin D. Picture:  GETTY IMAGES/STOCKPHOTO
Pregnant women would be better advised to improve their diet and take folic acid and vitamin D. Picture: GETTY IMAGES/STOCKPHOTO
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Pregnant women should avoid taking expensive multivitamins which are unhelpful and a waste of money, researchers have claimed.

Proper nourishment before and during pregnancy is important for the health of the mother and her unborn child, as deficiency of key nutrients has been linked to complications such as pre-eclampsia and low birthweight.

A wide-ranging review into the benefits of multivitamin and mineral supplements has found that these pills do not offer better outcomes for the mother or the baby.

Pregnant women should focus on improving their overall diet and taking folic acid and vitamin D supplements, which are available at a much lower cost, according to a paper published in the Drug and Thereapeutics Bulletin (dtb).

It found much of the evidence to support the use of nutritional supplements drew from studies done in poorer countries, where women are more likely to be undernourished than in the UK.

Supplements often contain more than 20 vitamins and minerals, such as vitamins B, magnesium and iron, at a cost of around £15 per month.

The authors, led by GP Dr James Cave, said: “For most women who are planning to become pregnant or who are pregnant, complex multivitamin and mineral preparations promoted for use during pregnancy are unlikely to be needed and are an unnecessary expense. The marketing of such products does not appear to be supported by evidence of improvement in child or maternal outcomes.”

National guidelines recommend women take 400ug of folic acid daily from before pregnancy until the end of the first trimester and 10ug of vitamin D thoughout pregnancy and breastfeeding.

Janet Fyle, a professional policy advisor at the Royal College of Midwives (RCM), said: “This is an interesting study and adds to a growing body of evidence that the benefits of eating a well balanced nutritious diet cannot be underestimated in improving outcomes for both mother and baby.”

Dr Carrie Ruxton, from the industry-funded Health Supplements Information Service, said: “The authors of this study wrongly claim that vitamin and mineral supplements must produce clinical effects before pregnant women are encouraged to take them.

“This is absolute nonsense. The role of food supplements is simply to combat dietary gaps.”