Prenatal vitamin supplementation has been known to be beneficial for the developing baby in utero, and has been shown to aide in development post partum. Several vitamin deficiencies during gestation have been linked to specific birth defects. The most notable is folate deficiency which has been implicated in the development of spinal bifida and other neural tube defects. The United States Public Health Service and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend that all women of childbearing age consume 0.4 mg of folic acid daily in order to prevent the development of neural tube defects. In 1996, the United States Food and Drug Administration established regulations for the fortification of the American food supply with enrichment of breads, cereals, flours, and other grain products in order to prevent folate deficiency. Prenatal supplementation with other vitamins has also been shown to be beneficial for the developing baby in utero. The March of Dimes has recommended that all pregnant women take at least 200 mg of the fish oil docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) to help support fetal brain and eye development prenatally, and to help support mental, visual, and motor skill development postpartum. Researchers lead by Dr. Usha Ramakrishnan have found that prenatal supplementation with DHA can help boost the newborn’s immune system and help protect against colds. The results of their study were published online in the journal Pediatrics. Fatty acids such as DHA have been shown to influence immune function and inflammation. The researchers hypothesized that prenatal supplementation with DHA could help in the newborn’s immune function postpartum. To test their hypothesis, the researchers conducted a double blind randomized controlled trial in pregnant women. Data was obtained for 849, 834, and 834 infants at the 1 month, 3 month, and 6 month ages, respectively. The women received prenatal vitamin supplementation with 400 mg of DHA or a placebo from weeks 18 to 22 of gestation until delivery. The researchers found that the occurrence of cold symptoms was lower in the DHA group at 1 month of life. The DHA group had 26%, 15%, and 30% shorter duration of cough, phlegm, and wheezing, respectively. At 3 months, the babies in the DHA group had 14% less time in illness. At 6 months of life, the babies in the DHA group had 20%, 13%, 54%, and 23% shorter lengths of time spent with fever, nasal secretions, difficulty breathing, and rash, respectively. The authors wrote, “In a large double-blind randomized controlled trial we found that 400 mg/ day DHA from 18 to 22 weeks’ gestation through parturition reduced the occurrence of colds in offspring at 1 month of age and influenced illness duration at 1, 3, and 6 months… Additional studies that are designed specifically to examine the influence of perinatal n-3 PUFA nutriture on infant immune function and include both biologically and clinically relevant outcomes are necessary to evaluate the potential value of dietary modification or n-3 PUFA supplementation during pregnancy and/or lactation”.
Beth Imhoff-Kunsch et al. “Prenatal Docosahexaenoic Acid Supplementation and Infant Morbidity: Randomized Conrtolled Trial” Pediatrics published online August 1, 2011 doi: 10.1542/peds.2010-1386