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Multivitamin Use Near Conception May Lower Premature Birth Risk


Women who take multivitamins around the time they conceive have a lower risk of premature birth, preterm labor, or low birth weight, according to a new study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. All these benefits were seen only in women of normal weight, however, and not overweight mothers-to-be.

Multivitamin use may result in a healthier baby

The study involved 35,897 women in the Danish National Birth Cohort, who told researchers about their use of multivitamins during a 12-week period around conception. Researchers than determined any relationship between multivitamin use and premature births and small-for-gestational-age (low birth weight) infants.

Premature birth is defined as infants born before 37 completed weeks of pregnancy. About 12.8 percent of infants born in the United States are premature, and these infants face potential serious health problems.

Premature infants are at increased risk for breathing problems and death, and they also face a higher risk of learning and behavioral disorders, vision and hearing loss, mental retardation, and cerebral palsy. Some studies suggest very premature infants could be at increased risk for diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease.

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Low birth weight infants are those who weigh less than 5 pounds, 8 ounces (2,500 grams) at birth. These infants are also at increased risk for disabilities and death. About 1 in every 12 babies born in the United States is deemed to be low birth weight. These infants face health challenges similar to those of premature infants, although not all low birth weight infants are premature.

In the Danish study, researchers found that women who were using multivitamins 4 to 6 weeks around the time of conception had a 16 percent lower risk of preterm birth, 20 percent reduced risk of preterm labor, and a 17 percent reduced risk of giving birth to a low-weight infant. These benefits were seen in normal weight women, but not women who were overweight prepregnancy.

According to the researchers, “multivitamin use around the time of conception could be a safe and simple strategy to improve pregnancy outcomes, similar to folate supplementation.”

In fact, the main multivitamin supplement used by women in the study contained 200 micrograms of folic acid. Multivitamins typically contain vitamins A, B, C, D, and E, as well as a variety of minerals. Previous studies have shown that vitamins C and E, along with zinc, are associated with a lower risk of preterm birth, which may be linked to their antioxidant abilities.

However, the researchers warned that their results should be “interpreted with caution” because multivitamin use can be associated with other lifestyle factors. For example, women who use multivitamins may be more likely to eat a nutritious diet and be less likely to smoke or drink alcohol, all factors that have an impact on premature and low birth weight births.

Catov JM et al. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 2011; 94:906-12
March of Dimes