The study also found that the babies were less likely to die the first week after birth, and that a complete multivitamin was more effective than iron and folic acid supplements alone.
"Neonatal deaths are traditionally viewed by child survival programs as relatively difficult to prevent, but new studies are strengthening the limited evidence base for highly cost-effective interventions that can save newborn lives in developing countries," said Dr. Rachel Haws and Dr. Gary Darmstadt of Bloomberg School of Public Health at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.
The study involved 200 women, 24 to 32 weeks pregnant, with risk factors for a low birth weight, including low hemoglobin and low body weight. When the women gave birth, those who took the complete multivitamin gained an average of 20 pounds, while those in the placebo group only gained 19 pounds. Babies born to the women taking whole supplements also weighed 0.2 pounds more than the placebo babies.
Dr. Piyush Gupta, reader in the department of pediatrics at the University College of Medical Sciences, said, "We advocate community-based trials in deprived populations to judge the impact of a supplementation schedule lasting throughout pregnancy. The effect of such supplementation on neonatal death and disability, in addition to the size at birth, needs to be urgently evaluated."