Background: In vitamin A deficient populations, the amount of vitamin A may be insufficient for maintenance of maternal health and levels in breast milk may be insufficient for breastfeeding infants' needs.
Objectives: To assess the effects of postpartum maternal vitamin A supplementation on maternal and infant health.
Search strategy: We searched the Cochrane Pregnancy and Childbirth Group's Trials Register (31 July 2010), LILACS (1982 to July 2010), Web of Science (1945 to July 2010) and Biological Abstracts (1998 to July 2010).
Selection criteria: Randomised controlled trials evaluating the effects of postpartum maternal vitamin A supplementation.
Data collection and analysis: Two review authors assessed the studies independently.
Main results: We included 12 trials at moderate risk of bias, enrolling 25,465 mother-baby pairs and comparing several postpartum doses (200,000-400,000 IU) of vitamin A or 7.8 mg daily beta-carotene, with placebo, iron or no supplement; or higher (400,000 IU) versus lower dose (200,000 IU). The majority of infants in all studies were at least partially breastfed for six months.Maternal: we observed no impact of vitamin A on maternal mortality (two trials of 9,126 women), morbidity (one trial of 50 women) or adverse effects (subset of 786 women in one trial). Vitamin A enhanced serum and breast milk retinol at three months in five trials, but these improvements were generally not sustained.Infant: we observed no significant differences for infant mortality RR 1.14 95% CI 0.84 to 1.57 (five trials (6,170 infants) or morbidity (three trials) except for fewer episodes of fever with vitamin A in one small trial. No significant differences in infant vitamin A status were seen with maternal vitamin A supplementation (five trials).No beneficial effects for maternal or infant health were associated with higher compared to lower doses of vitamin A in two trials.
Authors' conclusions: The lack of effect on maternal and infant mortality and morbidity, with exception of some improved infant morbidity in one small study, and the improvement in maternal vitamin A status, suggest that maternal postpartum vitamin A supplementation offers limited benefits.