WHO doubles recommended number of health visits during pregnancy

Pregnant women paint their bellies before an event to celebrate "Healthy Maternity Week" in Lima May 30, 2013. REUTERS/Enrique Castro-Mendivil

GENEVA (Reuters) - The World Health Organization revised guidelines on antenatal care on Monday, saying pregnant women should have twice as many contacts with health providers - eight - as it recommended previously.

More antenatal contacts help to reduce the chance of stillbirths, with 8 fewer perinatal deaths per 1,000 births, the WHO said in a statement.

Last year about 303,000 women globally died from pregnancy related causes, 2.7 million babies died in their first 28 days of life and 2.6 million were stillborn. Only 64 percent of women received antenatal care four or more times during their pregnancy.

The new WHO guidelines include 49 recommendations touching on diet, physical activity, tobacco, malaria, blood tests, tetanus vaccinations and the use of ultrasound. There is also advice on problems such as nausea, back pain and constipation.

The recommendations include taking 30-60 milligrams of iron supplements and 0.4 mg folic acid daily during pregnancy.

“More and better quality contacts between all women and their health providers throughout pregnancy will facilitate the uptake of preventive measures, timely detection of risks, reduces complications and addresses health inequalities,” WHO’s head of maternal health, Anthony Costello, said in a statement.

Reporting by Tom Miles; editing by Mark Heinrich