Taking multivitamin pills during pregnancy can dramatically cut the chances of having an underweight baby, according to a new study.
The research of more than 400 women, conducted by the Institute of Brain Chemistry and Human Nutrition, found cases of small-for-gestational age (SGA) births were less than half as common in mothers who had taken "multiple micronutrient supplements" during pregnancy, when compared with a placebo group, reports the Scotsman.
The researchers selected 402 healthy pregnant women from antenatal clinics in Hackney, east London, chosen as an example of a 'socially deprived, multi-ethnic population within a developed country.'
As part of the study, around 50 percent of women were told to take daily tablets containing a formula of 11 vitamins and five minerals.
The rest were given starch tablets as a placebo. Neither the participants nor researchers knew which group were given the active treatment.
Only 39 per cent of the original group complied fully with the conditions of the trial, with a number of women dropping out because of lifestyle pressures, while others complained of sickness and constipation.
Similar numbers from the treatment and placebo groups left the trial.
Study's lead author Dr Louise Brough said that although the group was small in numbers, the study was still "statistically significant and justifies a larger study".
The results of the study showed "significant levels" of vitamin and mineral deficiency during early pregnancy, with 72 per cent of the group being deficient in vitamin D at the beginning of the study.
In addition, 13 per cent were anaemic and 12 per cent were lacking in sufficient thiamin - which is needed for healthy nerves and muscles.
Mothers who took the supplement were found to have improved levels of iron and vitamin D by the third trimester.
In late pregnancy, 55 per cent of women taking the placebo were anaemic, compared with 36 per cent of those taking the supplement.
As to birth weight, eight of 88 babies born to mothers using the supplements were underweight. This compares with 13 of the 61 women in the placebo group.