Giving multivitamins to pregnant wormen in the developing world could avert a leading cause of pre-term birth and infant mortality, a study in this week's Journal of the American Medical Association says.
Researchers at Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore, Maryland, studied the benefits of giving multivitamins to 45,000 women in rural Bangladesh beginning in 2007. Investigators found that the 15 essential micronutrients contained in the vitamins were superior to the usual pregnancy supplements of iron and folic acid typically used in developing countries.
Women who received multivitamins were 15 percent less likely to give birth prematurely, before 37 weeks of gestation, and 12 percent less likely to have low birth weight babies under 2.5 kilograms. They gave birth between two and three days later than women in the iron-folic acid group. And their babies weighed an average of 55 grams more.
Finally, the babies of women who took multivitamins were 11 percent less likely to be delivered stillborn.
Researchers found that infant mortality in both groups at six months was approximately the same. But they noted that baby girls of mothers who took multivitamins seemed to have survived better than those whose mothers received only iron and folic acid. The authors did not note a survival edge in baby boys, for reasons that will be further investigated.
The authors noted that in developing countries, vitamin and mineral supplements sometimes cost more than iron-folic acid pills, which is a stretch for families that make only a few dollars per day. But they said their study provided evidence that the added cost of multivitamins was worth the investment, in terms of the health of pregnant women and their offspring.