Revealed: The top five supplements taken by Chinese mothers…and why more needs to be done to increase their use

By Gary Scattergood

- Last updated on GMT

There is a need for further nutrition education on maternal use of micronutrient supplements, researchers claim. ©iStock
There is a need for further nutrition education on maternal use of micronutrient supplements, researchers claim. ©iStock

Related tags Folic acid Dietary supplement

Dietary supplementation appears to be common among Chinese mothers during pregnancy, but intake of folic acid is well below the recommended national and global guidelines, while overall supplement use after giving birth is relatively low.

Calcium was the most popular maternal dietary supplement found in a new cohort study, while the majority of participants cited hospital staff as their main source of recommendation for products.

Overall, a total of 81.8% and 32.1% of women consumed dietary supplements during pregnancy and postpartum, respectively.

While the level of consumption during pregnancy tallies with similar studies in the US, Europe and Korea, the level postpartum was considerably lower.

Calcium was the taken by 63.9% of mothers during pregnancy and 28.1% postpartum, whereas folic acid was only taken during pregnancy by 62.3% with an average usage duration of 2.5 months among users.

Mothers with a high school and above education and attendance at prenatal classes were associated with dietary supplementation during pregnancy.

Writing in the journal Maternal and Child Nutrition​, academics from China, Hong Kong and Australia, explained how they undertook a prospective cohort study of 695 mothers, who gave birth to a single baby, in Jiangyou, Sichuan Province.

Information on dietary supplement use was collected from participants by personal interview at hospital discharge and followed up by telephone at one, three, and six months postpartum.

In China, the national guidelines recommend that pregnant women use folic acid supplements, and women suffering from anaemia or iron deficiency should take a low dose of iron supplement under doctors' guidance.

The researchers pointed out that a cross-sectional study conducted in eight provinces in 2009 revealed that 50% and 16% of the 726 pregnant women surveyed had used folic acid and iron supplements, respectively, but the prevalence varied significantly between urban and rural areas.

“In general, the usage patterns have not been documented, and information is lacking on Chinese mothers regarding their supplementation in the postpartum period,” ​they wrote, adding their study focused on tablet, capsule, and powder forms of dietary supplements, excluding traditional Chinese medicines, herbals, and botanicals.

After calcium and folic acid, the next most popular supplements during pregnancy were iron (11.3%), multivitamins (6.6%) and vitamin C (6.6%).

By six months postpartum, Vitamin E had replaced Vitamin c in the top five, albeit with only 1.5% of the participants consuming it.

Postpartum use

The researchers were particularly concerned about the levels of folic acid intake.

“Although both the WHO and Chinese Nutrition Society advise all women to take folic acid supplements daily throughout pregnancy less than two-thirds of our participants followed the recommendation in their current pregnancy, and the average duration of usage was only 2.5 months,”​ they wrote.

“Furthermore, folic acid and iron supplementation should be provided to women for at least three months after childbirth to reduce risk of illness due to anaemia, yet only three mothers taken folic acid supplements postpartum.”

Fortification of food with folic is not mandatory in China, so improved maternal nutrition education is merited, they argued.

“There is a need for further nutrition education on maternal use of micronutrient supplements, especially targeting mothers who are less educated,”​ they concluded.

Source: Maternal and Child Nutrition

DOI 10.1111/mcn.12435

“Consumption of dietary supplements by Chinese women during pregnancy and postpartum: A prospective cohort study”

Authors: Li Tang, et al.

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