e-Library of Evidence for Nutrition Actions (eLENA)

Vitamin A supplementation during pregnancy

Vitamin A is important for visual health, immune function and fetal growth and development. Vitamin A deficiency is a public health problem in many parts of the world, particularly Africa and South-East Asia. It can cause visual impairment in the form of night blindness and, in children, may increase the risk of illness and death from childhood infections, including measles and those causing diarrhoea.

Although pregnant women are susceptible to vitamin A deficiency throughout gestation, susceptibility is at its highest during the third trimester of pregnancy due to accelerated fetal development and the physiological increase in blood volume during this period.

While there is some indication that low doses of vitamin A supplements given to pregnant women on a daily or weekly basis, starting in the second or third trimester, can reduce the severity of decline in maternal serum retinol levels during late pregnancy and the symptoms of night blindness, current evidence indicates that vitamin A supplementation during pregnancy does not reduce the risk of illness or death in mothers or their infants.

Pregnant women should be encouraged to receive adequate nutrition, which is best achieved through consumption of a healthy balanced diet.

WHO recommendations

Vitamin A supplementation during pregnancy as part of routine antenatal care for the prevention of maternal and infant morbidity and mortality is not recommended.

In settings where there is a severe public health problem related to vitamin A deficiency (prevalence of night blindness is 5% or higher in pregnant women or 5% or higher in children 24–59 months of age), vitamin A supplementation during pregnancy is recommended for the prevention of night blindness.

Determination of vitamin A deficiency as a public health problem involves estimating the prevalence of deficiency in a population by using specific biochemical and clinical indicators of vitamin A status. Classification of countries based on the most recent estimates is available in the guidance document, Global prevalence of vitamin A deficiency in populations at risk 1995–2005, under 'WHO documents' below.

A suggested scheme for vitamin A supplementation in pregnant women, where there is a severe public health problem related to vitamin A deficiency, can be found in the WHO guideline, Vitamin A supplementation in pregnant women, under 'WHO documents' below.

WHO documents

GRC-approved guidelines
Other guidance documents


Systematic reviews used to develop the guidelines
Related systematic reviews
Clinical trials

Last update:

23 October 2014 12:30 CEST

Category 1 intervention

Guidelines have been recently approved by the WHO Guidelines Review Committee

Essential Nutrition Actions

This intervention is an Essential Nutrition Action targeting the first 1000 days of life.