Fertility and pregnancy

Folic acid reduces premature births

Taking Folic acid regularly from a year BEFORE conception is now recommended. Folic acid supplements taken before pregnancy reduce premature births

Taking folic acid for a year before conception, reduces a woman's risk of a premature birth by 70%, according to research published this week in PLoS Medicine.

Each year in the UK, almost 45,000 babies are born prematurely, a figure which has remained unchanged over the past 15 years. Premature babies born before 37 completed weeks of pregnancy are less likely to survive and at greater risk of breathing problems, life-threatening infections and developmental difficulties later in life. The more premature the baby is, the greater the risk and severity of health problems.

Previous research has suggested that women who have shorter pregnancies also have lower levels of folic acid in their blood. To investigate this, scientists from the University of Texas analysed the health records of almost 35,000 pregnant women.

After adjusting for other factors which could be linked to early delivery, the researchers found that taking folic acid supplements for at least one year or more before conception resulted in a 70% reduction in spontaneous birth between 20 and 28 weeks of pregnancy, compared with mothers who never took any supplements.

Additionally, they also found a 50% reduction in premature births between 28 and 32 weeks. However, the risk of having a premature birth started to increase in women taking folic acid for less than a year before conception.

The scientists also said that further more detailed studies need to be carried out to assess whether folic acid can be used to prevent spontaneous premature births from occurring.

This article was published on Tue 12 May 2009

Image © Darren Green - Fotolia.com

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