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Folic acid before and during pregnancy can reduce the risk of small for gestational age babies, study

Posted:  Monday, December 08, 2014

Doctors around the world suggest folic acid supplements to women of childbearing age to prevent neural tube defects such as spina bifida. Now, researchers from the UK have found that women taking folic acid supplements before and during pregnancy are less likely to have small for gestational age babies.

Babies are deemed small for gestational age (SGA) especially if their birth weight is in the lowest 10% of babies born. The present study was published in BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics & Gynaecology.

As part of the study, the researchers analysed data from a UK regional database and identified 108,525 pregnancies that provided data on the mothers' folic acid supplementation. Among them, almost 85% had taken folic acid during pregnancy. Data for when the folic acid supplementation was started was available for 39,416 women. It emerged that 25.5% of the women had started taking folic acid supplements before conception.

The results of the study were as follows:

• No folic acid supplementation before conception or during pregnancy – 16.3% babies born to such mothers reported a birth weight in the lowest 10% and 8.9% were born with a weight in the lowest 5%.

• Folic acid supplementation only during pregnancy – 13.4% of mothers in this group had babies in the lowest 10% and 7.1% had babies belonging to the lowest 5% category.

• Folic acid supplementation before conception – This group reported 9.9% infants in the lowest 10% and 4.8% babies in the lowest 5% birth weight category.

Thus, taking folic acid supplements before conception seemed to significantly reduce the risk of SGA. One main reason for SGA is intrauterine growth restriction (IUGR). At birth, SGA can cause complications such as reduced oxygen levels, polycythemia (excess red blood cells) and low blood sugar. Not just that, it can also predispose the infant to health problems such as diabetes, hypertension, obesity and heart disease later in life.

“Increased uptake of folic acid prior to pregnancy and throughout the first trimester could have significant public health benefits given the poor outcomes associated with SGA babies. New strategies are therefore vital to improve the lives of both mothers and babies,” concluded the researchers.

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