Zinc supplementation for improving pregnancy and infant outcome

Taking zinc during pregnancy helps to slightly reduce preterm births, but does not prevent other problems such as low birthweight babies.

Many women of childbearing age may have mild to moderate zinc deficiency. Low zinc concentrations may cause preterm birth or they may even prolong labour. It is also possible that zinc deficiency may affect infant growth as well. This review of 21 randomised controlled trials, involving over 17,000 women and their babies, found that although zinc supplementation has a small effect on reducing preterm births, it does not help to prevent low birthweight babies compared with not giving zinc supplements before 27 weeks of pregnancy. One trial did not contribute data. The overall risk of bias was unclear in half of the studies. No clear differences were seen for development of pregnancy hypertension or pre-eclampsia. The 14% relative reduction in preterm birth for zinc compared with placebo was primarily represented by trials of women with low incomes. In some trials all women were also given iron, folate or vitamins or combinations of these. UNICEF is already promoting antenatal use of multiple-micronutrient supplementation, including zinc, to all pregnant women in developing countries. Finding ways to improve women's overall nutritional status, particularly in low-income areas, will do more to improve the health of mothers and babies than supplementing pregnant women with zinc alone. In low- to middle- income countries, addressing anaemia and infections, such as malaria and hookworm, is also necessary.

Authors' conclusions: 

The evidence for a 14% relative reduction in preterm birth for zinc compared with placebo was primarily represented by trials involving women of low income and this has some relevance in areas of high perinatal mortality. There was no convincing evidence that zinc supplementation during pregnancy results in other useful and important benefits. Since the preterm association could well reflect poor nutrition, studies to address ways of improving the overall nutritional status of populations in impoverished areas, rather than focusing on micronutrient and or zinc supplementation in isolation, should be an urgent priority.

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Background: 

It has been suggested that low serum zinc levels may be associated with suboptimal outcomes of pregnancy such as prolonged labour, atonic postpartum haemorrhage, pregnancy-induced hypertension, preterm labour and post-term pregnancies, although many of these associations have not yet been established.

Objectives: 

To assess the effects of zinc supplementation in pregnancy on maternal, fetal, neonatal and infant outcomes.

Search strategy: 

We searched the Cochrane Pregnancy and Childbirth Group's Trials Register (31 October 2014) and reference lists of retrieved studies.

Selection criteria: 

Randomised trials of zinc supplementation in pregnancy. We excluded quasi-randomised controlled trials.

Data collection and analysis: 

Three review authors applied the study selection criteria, assessed trial quality and extracted data. When necessary, we contacted study authors for additional information. The quality of the evidence was assessed using GRADE.

Main results: 

We included 21 randomised controlled trials (RCTs) reported in 54 papers involving over 17,000 women and their babies. One trial did not contribute data. Trials were generally at low risk of bias. Zinc supplementation resulted in a small reduction in preterm birth (risk ratio (RR) 0.86, 95% confidence interval (CI) 0.76 to 0.97 in 16 RCTs; 16 trials of 7637 women). This was not accompanied by a similar reduction in numbers of babies with low birthweight (RR 0.93, 95% CI 0.78 to 1.12; 14 trials of 5643 women). No clear differences were seen between the zinc and no zinc groups for any of the other primary maternal or neonatal outcomes, except for induction of labour in a single trial. No differing patterns were evident in the subgroups of women with low versus normal zinc and nutrition levels or in women who complied with their treatment versus those who did not. The GRADE quality of the evidence was moderate for preterm birth, small-for-gestational age, and low birthweight, and low for stillbirth or neonatal death and birthweight.

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