Pregnant women who take multivitamins can help reduce the risk of their child having a major heart, limb or facial defect, according to the latest research from scientists in the US.
Women who suffer from a fever while pregnant have a higher risk of giving birth to a child with a major heart defect, but women who take multivitamins prior to conception and during the first three months of pregnancy can significantly reduce this risk.
This is the discovery of Dr Lorenzo Botto of the National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities in the US, whose team studied more than 2,000 pregnant women between 1968 and 1980. Their research covered both live and still births, but did not encompass children born with genetic defects.
Botto and his team found that the multivitamins did not cut the risk of the fever itself but that they could reduce the incidence of heart defects, neural tube defects, cleft lip and palate, limb defects and a rare condition called omphalocele, where part of the intestine protrudes through the navel.
"Several previous reports had suggested that mothers who had a febrile illness during the first trimester had a higher risk for having a child with a major heart defect. In our study, the findings suggested that in fact the risk was mostly confined to women who did not use multivitamins during the periconceptional period [the period just before and just after conception]," Botto wrote in the journal Epidemiology.
The women who took the vitamins had taken them at least three times a week, said Botto, adding that he recommended women take a daily multivitamin containing folic acid from before conception through early pregnancy. Folic acid has long been recommended to pregnant women for its effects on reducing the risk of neural tube defects such as spina bifida.
Dr Botto said his team would be carrying out further studies on the benefits of multivitamins, focusing in particular on whether it is the fever or the infection that leads to the defects.