Why Multiple Micronutrient Supplements (MMS)

At Kirk Humanitarian, we work to make multiple micronutrient supplements (MMS) available to women who are at risk of undernutrition during pregnancy because MMS offer greater health benefits, are safe, and are more cost-effective than iron-folic acid (IFA), the micronutrient supplements currently provided to pregnant women in many settings.

The Value of Nutrition

Good nutrition is fundamental.

It supports good health for pregnant womenimproved birth outcomes, and better physical growth and cognitive development among children. With school performance and productivity linked to cognition, good nutrition is connected to long-term economic benefits on individual, national, and global scalesAt every stage in the life cycle, good nutrition drives positive health and economic well-being 

The 1,000 days between conception and a child’s second birthday are not only foundational – they are transformational. And ensuring a child receives good nutrition throughout is of the utmost importance to support proper development. A child’s nutrition is contingent on his or her mother before and immediately after birth – at which point a child should begin breastfeeding within an hour of birth, followed by exclusive breastfeeding for six months, and continued breastfeeding and the introduction of complementary feeding until two years of age.    

These interventions, among others, are some of the core tenets of good health. 

The Risks of Undernutrition during Pregnancy – For Mothers and Babies

Diets alone often don’t meet pregnant women’s nutritional needs – and the consequences can be severe.

During pregnancy, women need higher levels of certain vitamins and minerals to support their health and their child’s development – and diets alone often cannot deliver enough of these nutrients. 

The consequences of not meeting these nutrient demands can be severe.  

Half a billion women of reproductive age and four out of 10 pregnant women worldwide suffer from anemia, which can lead to impaired health, decreased productivity, and unfulfilled earning potential. Anemia is estimated to contribute to 20 percent of maternal deaths and, during pregnancy, increases the risk of fetal death, prematurity, and low birth weight.  

Each year, approximately 20 million babies are born underweight, 23 million are born too small, and 15 million are born too soon. These children are born at a disadvantage. They are born with an increased risk of death during their first few months of life, and if they survive, they are more likely to have decreased cognition and be physically stunted – and are less likely to escape the cycle of poverty.  

What are MMS

Comprehensive MMS contain 15 essential vitamins and minerals that women need to help ensure their health, a healthy pregnancy, and a healthy baby. 

Not all women have access to MMS.

Yet pregnant women in many low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) don’t receive MMS – they receive a less complete and less effective product, IFA.  

MMS are superior, safe, and cost-effective.

While MMS contain 15 vitamins and minerals, IFA contains just two. And while IFA does help to improve birth outcomes, evidence shows MMS are superior. Compared to IFA, MMS reduce the risk of a child being born underweight, too small, or too soon. For children born to underweight and anemic mothers, the benefits are even more pronounced. Compared to IFA alone: 

The risk of infant mortality (from 0-6 months of age) decreases by 29% when a mother with anemia takes MMS during pregnancy.

  • MMS reduce the risk of a child being stillborn by 8%. Among anemic, pregnant women, the risk decreases by 26%.
  • MMS reduce the risk of a child being born underweight by 12%. Among anemic, pregnant women, the risk decreases by 19%. For underweight women, the risk decreases by 12%.
  • MMS reduce the risk of a child being born pre-term by 8%. Among pregnant, underweight women, the risk decreases by 16%.

MMS have also been proven safe and are now available at the same cost as IFA. Given the added benefits, this makes MMS more cost-effective and a better option than IFA.  

Why MMS Are Not Globally Available

The current standard of care in high-income countries is MMS – and it has been for generations. 

This imbalance is largely because many LMICs follow the current global standard for pregnant women, which recommends IFA. However, the recommendation allows for NGOs and policymakers to implement MMS if a country has high levels of malnutrition – specifically, micronutrient deficiency. 

The science is now unequivocal – comprehensive prenatal vitamins are safe and significantly more effective than iron and folic acid alone. Maternal micronutrient supplements are a ready solution that can prevent millions of infants from being born too soon or born too small.

Gilles Bergeron, PhD, New York Academy of Sciences 

Learn more about our work.

Further explore the research on MMS.