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More Bad News for Expectant Mothers

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In April 2023, we highlighted a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition showing that the majority of pregnant women fail to get adequate nutrition from their diets—and almost 99 percent of the prenatal supplements on the market fail to fill in the gaps.

Now, new research from scientists at the University of Southampton in England, the University of Auckland in New Zealand, and the National University of Singapore confirms part of this previous finding, namely that a full 90 percent of pregnant women aren’t getting the nutrients their babies need—a situation the researchers say will worsen as more people adopt plant-based diets. Their study was published in the journal PLOS Medicine.


The Study

Working with experts worldwide, the researchers assessed the diets of 1,729 women between the ages of 18 and 38 who participated in the NiPPeR study of the effects of supplementation on the health of expectant mothers and babies. Their results showed that nine out of ten women had marginal or low levels of folate, riboflavin, and vitamins B12 and D around the time of conception, and that many developed vitamin a vitamin B6 deficiency in late pregnancy. All of these nutrients are vital for fetal development.

These findings are particularly disturbing, say the researchers, because the women surveyed all come from developed countries like the UK, New Zealand, and Singapore. “Our study shows that almost every woman trying to conceive had insufficient levels of one or more vitamin,” says Keith Godfrey, PhD, the study’s lead author. “People think that nutrient deficiency only affects people in underdeveloped countries—but it is also affecting the majority of women living in high-income nations.”

And because the majority of missing nutrients are found in abundance in meat and dairy products, the situation is only likely to get worse, says Godfrey. “The push to reduce our dependence on meat and dairy to achieve net-zero carbon emissions is likely to further deplete expecting mothers of vital nutrients, which could have lasting effects on unborn children.”



The researchers say that their study results highlight the growing need for quality prenatal vitamins and supplements. Co-author Wayne Cutfield, MD, of the University of Auckland, notes that while folic acid is recommended for women planning conception and during pregnancy, expecting mothers should be given over-the-counter multivitamins to reduce other common nutrient deficiencies.

“The wellbeing of a mother ahead of conceiving and during a pregnancy has a direct influence on the health of the infant, their lifelong physical development, and ability to learn,” he says.

Professor Shiao-Yng Chan of the National University of Singapore, another of the study’s authors, agrees. “If we continue to move towards diets with less meat and dairy products, reducing intakes of micronutrients essential for a child’s development, vitamin deficiencies will continue to grow unless women start taking more supplements or are supported with specific advice about nutrient-rich foods,” she says.




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