Folic Acid Supplementation Before & During Pregnancy

The need for folic acid supplementation in pregnancy to prevent neural tube defects is already well known by both physicians and many mothers-to-be. In addition to preventing these birth defects, there are multiple reasons for young, fertile women to take folic acid before and during pregnancy, all of which are equally important and beneficial for their future child. The following discussion highlights just a few of these reasons.

Recent studies suggest maternal folic acid supplementation may help to: 

-Prevent delays in childhood speech development

-Decrease childhood behavioral difficulties

-Support fertility in both partners

-Prevent pre-term labor

Printed in a recent addition to the Journal of American Medical Association, an article by clinical psychologist Christine Roth discussed the connection between low maternal folic acid and childhood speech development:

“Maternal use of supplements containing folic acid within the period from four weeks before, to eight weeks after conception was associated with a substantially reduced risk of severe language delay in children at age 3 years”

These findings support current recommendations for young, fertile women to take folic acid before and during early pregnancy. Since folic acid deficiency is known to disrupt nervous system development early in pregnancy, it is not surprising to find that there may be other symptoms of an impaired nervous system, such as delayed speech. There is great potential for other neurological symptoms to arise in mothers not getting enough folic acid.

Early data from another study, this one published in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, suggests more behavioral difficulties arise in children (average age of 8 years) whose mothers had a lower level of folate during early pregnancy. Specifically, these children were at greater risk for hyperactivity and difficulties with peers.

Folic acid supplementation doesn’t only apply to future moms. Both women and men should consider supplementing before pregnancy, as it is an essential part of the reproductive system for both sexes. Research suggests  a deficiency in folate (the body’s form of folic acid) may impair fertility for both partners, as it is an important nutrient in sperm and egg maturation.

Another widely studied basis for taking folic acid is to prevent early labor. In one such study of moms, all with varied but normal folate levels, those with higher levels were as much as 60% less likely to give birth to a pre-term baby. With so many known health risks for preemies (learning disabilities, delayed development, death, etc.), taking folic acid should be a step every women takes before starting her family.

 

According to the National Institutes of Health, foods richest in folic acid include:

   Enriched grains

   Legumes: Black-eyed peas, Great Northern beans, Lentils, Peanuts

   Vegetables: Spinach, Green peas, Broccoli, Asparagus

Common causes of folate deficiency include:

   Pregnancy and breastfeeding

   Alcohol intake

   Malabsorption

   Medications such as Metformin

Potential symptoms of folate deficiency:

   Loss of appetite

   Irritability

   Diarrhea

   Heart palpitations

   Weakness

   Sore tongue

If you are planning on beginning a family, or you are already pregnant, speak with your healthcare provider today about the right supplements for you.

 

Dr. Kaley Bourgeois

 

References:

NIH: Office of Dietary Supplements, http://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets
MedlinePlus–Healthday, Folic Acid in Pregnancy May Prevent Kids’ Language Delays, 2011
Scholtz, W., et al., Lower maternal folate status in early pregnancy is associated with childhood hyperactivity and peer problems in offspring., J Child Psychol Psychiatry, 2010 May; 51(5): 594-602.
Ebisch, I., et al., The important of folate, zinc and antioxidants in the pathogenesis and prevention of subfertility., Oxford Journal: Human Reproductive Update, vol. 13, issue 2, pp. 163-174.
Bodnar, LM., et al., Maternal serum folate species in early pregnancy and risk of preterm birth., Am J Clin Nutr. 2010 Oct; 92(4): 864-71.