Is it safe to take multivitamins when you’re pregnant?

Expert advice on prenatal vitamin and mineral supplements and an update on the latest research

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In a nutshell

Yes, it’s safe to take most multivitamin supplements during pregnancy – as long as you avoid brands that contain vitamin A (too much vitamin A – retinol – can damage your unborn baby). But, many experts say, you don’t actually need to take multivitamins while you’re pregnant.

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In fact, in a new study published in the Drug And Therapeutics Bulletin researchers suggest that, while there’s no harm in taking multivitamins while you’re pregnant, you might be wasting your money – pregnancy multivitamins can cost around £15 for a month’s supply – because there’s no evidence that the tablets improve your or your baby’s health.

What is important, though, is that you stick with NHS advice to take 2 specific supplements in pregnancy: folic acid and vitamin D.

What does the latest study say exactly?

The researchers, whose conducted a thorough review of all available studies on this subject, found that there’s “no evidence to recommend that all pregnant women should take prenatal mutli-nutrient supplements beyond the nationally advised folic acid and vitamin D supplements” – both of which can be bought separately and inexpensively.

In other words, according to the researchers, special pregnancy multivitamins – often containing a combo of B1, B2, B3, B6, B12, C, D, E and K, iodine, magnesium, copper, iron, zinc, selenium and folic acid – offered no discernible extra health benefit to a pregnant woman or her baby.

So, what is recommended, then?

You should be able to get the vitamins and minerals you need during pregnancy from eating a varied, healthy diet.

But the NHS currently advises all pregnant women also to take 400 micrograms (400 mcg) of folic acid a day during the first 12 weeks of their pregnancy.

This is because studies show it may lower the risk of certain neural tube (brain and spine) defects your baby could develop, such as spina bifida. (Pregnant Women who’ve been told by their midwife or GP that they’re at high risk of such deficiencies are sometimes advised to take a higher dose – 5 milligrams (5mg) – of folic acid.)

It’s also advised that pregnant women take a daily 10 microgram dose of Vitamin D. (You should also keep taking this after the birth, if you decide to breastfeed).

Both folic acid and vitamin D tablets, suitable for pregnant women, are available in good pharmacies and supermarkets at a considerably lower cost than multivitamin supplements. You may also be able to get them on prescription from your GP or through the Healthy Start scheme. 

What do the supplement manufacturers say?

Dr Carrie Ruxton, a dietician at the Health Supplements Information Service, has pretty much rejected the new study’s findings. She told The Guardian that just because multivitamins don’t produce clinical effects, it doesn’t mean they aren’t useful in combatting “dietary gaps” for pregnant women who aren’t eating the right foods in pregnancy.

In other words, if your diet’s a bit unvaried or not as healthy as it should be, Dr Ruxton thinks pregnancy vitamins might be a way to making sure you’re getting all the vitamins and minerals you need.

So what should I do?

It’s totally up to YOU whether or not you want to take multivitamin supplements during your pregnancy. They’re safe, as long as you avoid ones containing vitamin A.

But all the current evidence suggests that they’re not essential, so as long as you make sure you’re getting folic acid and vitamin D, you can save yourself a pretty penny by not taking anything else.

If you’re ever in doubt about what’s right for you, get in touch with your midwife or GP.

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