Undernourished pregnant women who took a multi-vitamin-mineral supplement (MVM) gave birth to healthier babies compared to women who did not take a MVM, in a new study. Researchers from Delhi, India, recruited 200 pregnant, undernourished women with a body mass index (BMI) of less than 18.5 and/or a blood-iron (hemoglobin) level of 7 to 9 grams per deciliter of blood. BMI measures weight adjusted for height with the healthy range being 18.5 to 24.9. Women normally have hemoglobin levels of 12 to 16 grams per deciliter. The women were 24 to 32 weeks pregnant at the start of the study and all 200 began taking a basic regimen of 60 mg of iron (ferrous sulfate) and 500 mcg of folic acid per day. Doctors divided the women into two groups with 99 women taking a MVM and 101 taking a calcium placebo. The MVM contained 29 micronutrients, including the 15 recommended by the World Health Organization and United Nations Children’s Fund.
Doctors followed 170 newborns for one week after birth and found that compared to placebo, infants born to mothers in the MVM group weighed an average of 3.5 ounces more, were nearly one-third inch longer and measured nearly one-tenth of an inch larger around the mid-arm. Researchers recorded low birth weight (LBW) in 16.2% of the MVM group versus 43.1% for placebo and recorded disease in 14.8% of MVM babies versus 28% for placebo.
The benefits of MVMs may be understated in the study because all women, including those in the placebo group, took iron and folic acid. Doctors concluded that MVMs may reduce the number of LBW babies and significantly reduce illness in the first week of life.