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Multivitamins 'not needed' by most women during pregnancy

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Multivitamins promoted for use during pregnancy are not needed by most expectant mothers and are an “unnecessary expense,” a new study has found.

The review of evidence found the only supplements recommended for all women during pregnancy were folic acid and vitamin D, which it said were available at a relatively low cost.

Published in the BMJ’s Drug and Therapeutics Bulletin, the study authors noted a wide range of over-the-counter vitamin products were promoted to pregnant women, typically containing 20 or more vitamins and minerals, which could cost up to £15 a month.

But much of the evidence for vitamin supplementation in pregnancy comes from studies carried out in low-income countries where women are more likely to be undernourished than within the UK population, they said.

“We found no evidence to recommend that all pregnant women should take prenatal multi-nutrient supplements beyond…folic acid and vitamin D”

Study of vitamin supplementation in pregnancy

The study reviewed UK guidance and the evidence behind it and found that, apart from folic acid and vitamin D, vitamin supplements did not have “clear benefit for clinical outcomes for most women who are well nourished”.

“We found no evidence to recommend that all pregnant women should take prenatal multi-nutrient supplements beyond the nationally advised folic acid and vitamin D supplements, generic versions of which can be purchased relatively inexpensively,” they said.

“The primary focus should be on promoting a healthy diet and improving the use of folic acid supplements, which have a poor uptake, particularly among those from lower income families,” they added.

”The benefits of eating a well-balanced, nutritious diet during pregnancy cannot be underestimated”

Janet Fyle

The Royal College of Midwives welcomed the study, in particular its focus on promoting a nutritious diet during pregnancy.

RCM policy adviser Janet Fyle said: “This is an interesting study and adds to a growing body of evidence that the benefits of eating a well-balanced, nutritious diet during pregnancy cannot be underestimated in improving outcomes for both mother and baby.

“We would encourage women who are pregnant or are thinking of becoming pregnant to have a healthy, varied diet including fresh fruit and vegetables, alongside taking folic acid supplements.”

She noted the benefits of taking vitamin D supplements were well documented.

“UK health departments recommend that all pregnant and breastfeeding women should take a daily supplement containing 10µg of vitamin D, to ensure the mother’s requirements for vitamin D are met and to build adequate fetal stores for early infancy,’ she said.

But although taking folic acid supplements at the right time was beneficial, she said, many women from low socio-economic groups or ethnic minorities did not have access to them.

“We need a rethink of policy priorities to ensure that all childbearing women can access folic acid supplementation at the right time,” Ms Fyle said.

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