Mums-to-be who take multi-vitamins to boost their baby’s health are wasting their money as most don’t need them, a new study has warned.
Pregnant women are bombarded with the message to take expensive multivitamin and mineral supplements to give their baby the best start in life.
But they should ignore the marketing hype and focus on improving their diet and only take folic acid and vitamin D as recommended by the NHS.
Taking folic acid found in fortified bread is essential to reduce neural tube defects such as anencephaly and spina bifida and is backed by most scientific studies .
The evidence for taking Vitamin D was less clear cut but pregnant and breastfeeding mums are urged to take a daily dose of 10µg to ensure their baby’s bones are healthy.
A deficiency in key nutrients has been linked to various complications of pregnancy and birth, including pre-eclampsia, restricted foetal growth, neural tube defects, skeletal deformities and low birthweight.
Doctors said good nourishment, both before and during pregnancy, was essential for the health of the mother and her unborn child.
But a wide range of multi-vitamin and mineral supplements are heavily marketed to women for all stages of pregnancy to guard against these sorts of problems.
Typically these supplements contain 20+ vitamins and minerals, such as vitamins B1, B2, B3, B6, B12, C, D, E, K, folic acid, iodine, magnesium, iron, copper, zinc and selenium, at a cost of around £15 a month.
Yet these supplements are simply not needed and high doses of vitamin A may harm the developing foetus.
Instead the NHS can provides a month’s worth of folic acid and vitamin D and C tablets for just 57p.
The conclusions were reached in a review of the available evidence published in the BMJ’s Drug and Therapeutics Bulletin.
Editor Dr James Cave said: “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.
“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.
“For most women who are planning to become pregnant or who are pregnant, complex multivitamin and mineral preparations promoted for use during pregnancy are unlikely to be needed and are an unnecessary expense.
“The marketing of such products does not appear to be supported by evidence of improvement in child or maternal outcomes.
“Pregnant women may be vulnerable to messages about giving their baby the best start in life, regardless of cost, and be unaware that the only supplements recommended for all women during pregnancy are folic acid and vitamin D, which are available at relatively low cost.”
The paper urged the NHS to make low-cost tablets containing vitamin D, folic acid and vitamin C more widely accessible by expanding the the UK wide Healthy Start scheme.
Currently it is only provides the free vitamin supplements to low income pregnant women who are at least 10 weeks pregnant