Reality check: Do pregnant women need a daily multivitamin? Research says they’re ‘wasting money’

Many pregnant women take multivitamins during their pregnancy to make sure they have a healthy baby. But are they wasting their money?

New research is casting doubt on the value of multivitamins for pregnant women and their growing babies. While it’s turning conventional wisdom on its head, maternal health experts say they’re skeptical about the findings.

“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 study, published in the Drug and Therapeutics Bulletin, reads.

“When we looked at the studies, it was remarkable how little good evidence there is to support what women do,” Dr. James Cave, editor-in-chief of the journal, told TIME.

His team’s research suggests that pregnant women are “vulnerable to messaging about giving their baby the best start in life, regardless of cost.”

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The review suggests women are better off focusing solely on folic acid and vitamin D supplements instead. Their conclusions are based on combing over dozens of international studies that followed the health of more than 100,000 expectant moms.

Ultimately, the scientists found that there wasn’t an “obvious” benefit from taking these multivitamins.

WATCH: Sports nutritionist Pearle Nerenberg talks about the vitamins that should be taken during pregnancy for a healthier mom and baby.

Experts don’t agree with the findings, though.

“I absolutely recommend that [pregnant women] take a prenatal vitamin as long as they can tolerate it,” Daphna Steinberg, a clinical dietitian in high risk obstetrics at Sunnybrook Research Institute, told Global News.
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She pointed to standard prenatal vitamins, such as Materna, Centrum and Jamieson, as sound options. Some women take prescribed prenatal vitamins, such as PregVit, too.

“I think this research gives some not so good advice and I say that because prenatal vitamins are a nice, compact way to get nutrition that you need without having to take multiple pills throughout the day,” she said.

“A prenatal vitamin is a really good insurance policy, especially given the fact that women deal with nausea and vomiting during pregnancy and they have food aversions that can impact their ability to eat, drink and provide themselves with the nutrition they need,” she said.

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Women need folic acid, iron, vitamins B12, C and D, and calcium among other nutrients during gestation.

Calcium, for example, is important for babies’ teeth and bones, and also protects against developing high-blood pressure later on in the pregnancy. It could be obtained through drinking milk, but keep in mind, some moms could have trouble with dairy, deal with aversions during pregnancy or they could have heartburn or be lactose intolerant.

Iron is crucial during pregnancy, too. Women need about 27 milligrams a day, but a 2.5 ounce serving of beef only provides about 2.4 milligrams. This is why Steinberg suggests multivitamins fill the void.

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One out of every four pregnant women in Canada are iron deficient, which can lead to maternal anemia, fatigue, low infant birth weight and preterm birth, she warned.

Dr. Carrie Ruxton, a dietitian and spokeswoman for the Health Supplements Information Service, agreed.

In an interview with the Guardian in the U.K., she said that multivitamins’ role in a pregnant woman’s diet is to “combat dietary gaps.”

Read the review’s full findings here.

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