A recent study by Irish doctors based in UCD and the Coombe Women & Infants University Hospital has found an increasing number of babies born with neural tube defects (NTD ) such as spina bifida, anencephaly, and encephalocoele. Although NTDs are very rare, folic acid intake reduces the risk by promoting the development of a healthy spinal cord. It is a worry that almost 15 per cent of new mums had never taken folic acid. The study also found that only 14 per cent of women had taken folic acid pre-conception and nearly a half of women had only started to take folic acid after conception. It seems timely to get the message back out there.
A baby’s spinal cord is formed during the first three months of pregnancy, a time when many women do not even know they are they are pregnant. So this is the time when it is most important to be taking folic acid. However as approximately half of all pregnancies are unplanned, all women of childbearing age are advised to take a folic acid supplement. The dose that is needed is 400mg per day - most supplements of folic acid meet this recommendation. It is advised that a supplement is taken prior to conception and for the first 12 weeks of pregnancy.
The message is clear - if there is any chance that you could become pregnant you should be taking folic acid. Although NTD is very rare, by taking this simple vitamin pill you can reduce your risk significantly. So get that folic acid supplement - 400mg a day is all you need.
By Charlotte Johnston, senior community dietitian. For more information on diet and nutrition, please contact the Community Nutrition and Dietetic Service, HSE Dublin-Mid Leinster on (044 ) 9395518 or [email protected].