Multi-vitamin during pregnancy 'cuts chances of having an underweight baby'
Taking a multivitamin during pregnancy can dramatically cut the chances of having an underweight baby, according to a new study.
Children who are underweight at birth are more likely to develop health problems including difficulty breathing and jaundice.
Experts believe that they could also be more likely to develop a number of major illnesses, including diabetes and heart disease, in later life.
But new research suggests that taking a specially created supplement could cut the risk of having a small baby in half.
The multivitamin also improved the health of the pregnant women, the study found.
The research team called for larger studies to confirm their findings.
But they said that if these were consistent with their results many pregnant women could benefit from such supplements.
Dr Louise Brough, from Massey University in New Zealand, one of the co-authors of the study, said: “It is especially important to have good nutrient levels during early pregnancy as this is a critical time for development of the foetus.
“Nutrient deficiencies are correctable and they may influence birth outcomes.
“Of course a good diet during pregnancy is important for a healthy pregnancy, but for those who do not have a good diet, multivitamin and mineral supplements will help to reduce the risk of deficiency.”
At the start of the study almost three quarters of the women, 72pc, had low level of vitamin D, while 13pc were low in iron and 12pc were deficient in thiamin, also called vitamin B1.
Those who took the supplement achieved better levels of all three than a control group given a placebo, according to the findings, published in the British Journal of Nutrition.
They were also 50pc less likely to have a child with a low birth weight.
More than 400 newly pregnant women started the study, carried out by the Institute of Brain Chemistry and Human Nutrition at London Metropolitan University and the Homerton University Hospital (in East London).
But there was a high dropout rate and only 149 completed the study.
Half were given a multivitamin, Pregnacare, made by Vitabiotics, while the other half were given a placebo.
The researchers tested the women for nutritional deficiencies at the start of the study, and then when they were 26 and 34 weeks pregnant.
They warned that the incidence of low birth weight babies in higher in Britain than in Cuba and on a par with Romania.
In 2005 UNICEF estimated that it was running at eight per cent of all births.
Dr Brough said: “A baby’s health can be adversely affected if it is too small at birth, both in early and later life.
"This study shows that supplementing with a specific multivitamin supplement may help to reduce this.
"Although the numbers are small, the data is statistically significant and consistent with what is known about maternal-fetal nutrition and justifies a larger study.
Babies are considered to have a low birth weight if they weigh less than 2.5kg (5.5lb).