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RCOG statement: Study claims multivitamin and mineral supplements for pregnant women aren't needed

News 12 July 2016

Multivitamin and mineral supplements for mums-to-be are unlikely to be needed by most pregnant women, suggests a new study published in the BMJ journal’s Drug and Therapeutics Bulletin. The review claims pregnant women should instead focus on improving their diet and taking folic acid and vitamin D supplements. 

Dr Virginia Beckett, spokesperson for the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) said: 

“A nutritious diet and physical activity will benefit both women and their babies during pregnancy.  While most vitamins and minerals come from our diet, it is common for people in the UK to be low in vitamin D and folic acid, which are important in pregnancy.

“We agree with the authors that, for most women, a healthy diet along with taking supplements of folic acid prior to conception and during the first 12 weeks of gestation, and a supplement of vitamin D throughout pregnancy and if breast feeding, is enough to give their child the best start in life.

“Some pregnant women are also advised to take iron supplements by their GP or midwife if the iron level in their blood becomes low and they become anaemic.

“While we recognise that many women may prefer to take a multivitamin tablet throughout their pregnancy, particularly if they find it difficult to ensure a healthy, balanced diet, they should always seek advice from their GP or midwife. Multivitamin supplements that are not made specifically for pregnant women are not usually recommended as they may contain high levels of other vitamins, such as vitamin A, which may be harmful to the baby.”

Notes to editors:

Pregnant women are advised to start taking a daily dose of 400 micrograms of folic acid before getting pregnant, and continue taking them until 13 weeks’ gestation. Folic acid helps to reduce the risk of spina bifida, heart or limb defects and some brain tumours in babies.

Pregnant and breastfeeding women are advised to take a daily dose of 10 micrograms of vitamin D. Vitamin D supplements can improve a baby’s growth, and reduce the risk of developing rickets.

To eat healthily, expectant mothers should aim to do the following:

  • Base meals on starchy foods such as potatoes, bread, rice and pasta, choosing wholegrain if possible
  • Eat at least five portions of different fruit and vegetables every day rather than foods that are higher in fat and calories
  • Eat a low-fat diet and don’t increase the number of calories eaten
  • Instead, eat fibre-rich foods such as oats, beans, lentils, grains and seeds, as well as wholegrain bread, brown rice and wholemeal pasta.
  • Eat some protein every day; choose lean meat, and try to eat two portions of fish a week
  • Eat dairy foods for calcium but choose low-fat varieties such as skimmed milk or low-fat yogurt
  • Watch portion sizes and note how often you eat (do not ‘eat for two’)
  • Always eat breakfast.
  • Avoid caffeine in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, as it may increase the risk of miscarriage; after that, limit caffeine intake to 200 milligrams (mg) per day