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- Kunle Emmanuel
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- Joined: Mon Jan 09, 2012 5:02 pm
- Location: Lagos
Women who take folic acid before becoming pregnant are more likely to have a baby with a normal birth weight, new research suggests.
British researchers analysed a total of 108,525 pregnancies among a wide range of women with an average age of 28.7 years and an average BMI of 24.7.
More than four in 10 (42%) were pregnant with their first baby, and four in five (81.7%) did not smoke.
While around five in six (84.9%) had taken folic acid during pregnancy, the exact start of the supplementation was only recorded in 39,416 women.
Among these, one in four (25.5%) had started to take folic acid before becoming pregnant.
The experts focused on how many babies were born small for gestation age (SGA), which is defined as being in the lowest 10% of babies - or less than the 10th centile - when it comes to birth weight.
Overall, 13.4% of newborns were found to weigh under the 10th centile and 7% weighed less than the fifth centile.
Women who had not taken any folic acid during pregnancy had the highest risk of having an SGA baby, with 16.3% of babies born weighing less than the 10th centile and 8.9% under the fifth.
Those who had taken folic acid before conception had a 10th centile risk of 9.9%, compared with a 13.8% risk for those who had only started supplementation after becoming pregnant, and a fifth centile risk of 4.8%, compared with 7.1%.
Being SGA at birth is linked to a higher rate of neonatal morbidity and mortality and a higher risk of developing a chronic disease such as diabetes or mental health problems.
Folic acid is known to cut the risk of spina bifida and other neural tube defects, and women are urged to begin taking supplements before conception.
However, the authors found that only few women follow the recommendations, with pre-conceptual uptake rates ranging between 14.8% and 31%.
They are calling for new strategies to help boost uptake of folic acid supplements before conception, and for more research on how folic acid works.
The research has been published in the journal BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology.
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