Pregnant women taking a daily multivitamin pill have bigger babies, a study shows. Taking the supplement cuts the risk of having low birth-weight babies, which can have health problems. This is the first study to show multivitamins specially tailored for pregnancy make a difference for women living in developed countries.
It was already known that the pills work in developing countries, where food may be scarce and diets lacking in nutrients. The study looked at the effect of multivitamins on 400 pregnant women with vitamin and mineral deficiencies living in East London.
During the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, half started taking Pregnacare pills. These contain 19 vitamins and minerals, including iron, folic acid and vitamin D. The rest had dummy starch tablets. After the babies were born, doctors found those taking the supplements had higher levels of iron, folate, thiamin and vitamin D.
Although iron levels fell in both groups, in late pregnancy 55 per cent of women taking dummy pills were deficient compared with 36 per cent of those on supplements. The most significant finding was that mothers taking multivitamins had fewer small babies. Eight out of the 88 babies born to women on supplements were considered small, compared with 13 out of 61 on dummy pills. Women on supplements had babies four ounces heavier on average.
Consultant obstetrician Pat O'Brien, of University College London, said: 'What happens in the womb can almost programme the baby for life.' Small babies are more likely to have breathing problems and develop jaundice, he explained. As adults, they are also more likely to suffer from obesity, diabetes, heart attacks and strokes.
It is cheaper to give specially tailored multivitamins to mothers-to-be than look after a baby in intensive care, added Mr O'Brien. The study, from the Institute of Brain Chemistry and Human Nutrition at London Metropolitan University and the Homerton University Hospital, is published today in the British Journal of Nutrition.
Pregnacare, made by Vitabiotics, costs £4.95 for a month's supply. Mothers-to-be are not generally advised to take supplements, with the exception of folic acid. The UK has one of the worst records in Western Europe for babies of low birth-weight relative to time spent in the womb. It is worse than Cuba and on a par with Romania at 8 per cent.
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