Maximizing Potential: The Impact of Multiple Micronutrient Supplementation (MMS) for Improved Maternal and Child Health

In the quest for improved maternal and child health and gender equality, we often overlook the fundamental importance of good nutrition. The unique biological needs of women, gender disparities in access to food and services, and harmful social norms contribute to an ever-growing gender nutrition gap. During pregnancy, increased nutritional needs due to physical changes and the needs of a growing baby further exacerbate this gap. Micronutrient deficiencies during pregnancy put both mothers and babies at risk of birth complications, small vulnerable newborns, and even death, and the lack of nutrients in this critical period can prevent children from reaching their full physical and mental potential. Multiple Micronutrient Supplementation (MMS) during pregnancy provides a transformative solution to mitigating a wide array of harmful micronutrient deficiencies. During #March4Nutrition, we want to highlight MMS as a proven solution to meet the increased nutritional needs of women during pregnancy and further children’s growth, learning, and overall well-being.

What is Multiple Micronutrient Supplementation?

During pregnancy, women need up to 50% more micronutrients – vitamins and minerals – to support the physiological changes in their bodies and meet the nutritional needs of their growing babies. Meeting this increased intake requirement solely from diet is challenging. Adding to the challenge is the fact that many women, especially in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs), are already deficient in several micronutrients even before pregnancy: globally, two in three women of reproductive age suffer from at least one micronutrient deficiency.

MMS is a daily dose of 15 essential vitamins and minerals, including iron and folic acid. MMS ensures that expectant mothers receive more of the essential nutrients that contribute to healthier pregnancies and provide better birth outcomes. Developed by the World Health Organization, the United Nations University, and UNICEF and backed by over twenty years of research, MMS offers a comprehensive solution to bridge the nutritional gap.

Why Multiple Micronutrient Supplementation?

When the body is deprived of essential vitamins and minerals, long-term economic costs and health impacts can have life-long effects for an individual and ripple through families for generations. The consequences of inadequate nutrition during pregnancy can affect infant health and pose adverse maternal outcomes, escalating the risk of mortality. For infants, these deficiencies correlate with low birth weight, pre-term delivery, small gestational size, neural tube defects and congenital defects.

Life-Saving Potential

The positive impact of MMS for maternal health is significant. Undernourished pregnant women are more likely to experience adverse pregnancy and birth outcomes. Maternal anemia, caused by iron deficiency, affects an estimated 40% of women globally and is strongly associated with postpartum haemorrhage, the leading cause of maternal death. Maternal anemia is also associated with adverse birth outcomes such as preterm delivery, low birth weight, and decreased iron stores for the baby, which may lead to impaired development.

MMS also substantially increases the likelihood of infants being born at a healthy weight, enhancing their chances of surviving on their second birthday. Globally, 1 in 7 newborns are born with low birth weight; that’s a staggering 20 million babies annually. We are not on track to achieve the 2025 global target of a 30% reduction of low birth weight. 

Data from Nutrition International captures the life-saving potential of MMS: providing a full 90-day dosage to pregnant women in eight countries could save an additional 563,940 children’s lives over five years, including averting stillbirths. 

A Lifelong Impact

Good nutrition is crucial for full physical and intellectual development and has enormous economic and social benefits. Adequate nutrition during the first 1,000 days can significantly boost a child’s future earning potential by up to 46%. Investing in nutrition and implementing proven solutions like MMS during the earliest stages of life has massive returns on investment, up to $35 for every dollar spent. Prioritizing maternal and child nutrition is among the smartest development investments, laying the groundwork for successful investments in other sectors, but will also pave the way for today’s children to drive tomorrow’s growing economies.

Scaling up MMS to 90% coverage is projected to contribute to significant human capital gains for all babies born annually across 132 LMICs, adding 5 million additional school years and 18 billion USD in cumulative lifetime income

“MMS isn’t just about vitamins and minerals; it’s a lifeline for pregnant women and their growing babies worldwide. By addressing micronutrient deficiencies in pregnancy, MMS ensures that both mom and baby receive the essential building blocks for health, resilience, and empowerment setting a strong foundation for generations to come, explains Solianna Meaza, Interim Executive Director at 1,000 Days. 

Urgent Global Action

Despite being cost-effective, ready to scale, and backed by over 20 years of scientific research, the unfortunate reality is that the majority of pregnant women in LMICs lack access to MMS, while multiple micronutrient supplementation is the standard in high-income countries, like the United States. 

Making MMS available to all women can act as a social equalizer by offering all pregnant women the same standard of care. Countries are achieving this by making MMS free for all women attending antenatal care. 

But more needs to be done. We need a unified global effort to make MMS an accessible and impactful intervention for maternal and child health worldwide and for the Sustainable Development Goals in achieving global health and prosperity. Let’s invest in a solution with proven potential for positive, lasting change in public health for women and future generations.