Not enough women taking folic acid

While the vast majority of women are aware of the benefits of taking folic acid, only around one-third actually take this important vitamin, a new survey has revealed.

Folic acid is a B-group vitamin, which is known to reduce the risk of neural tube defects (NTDs) in babies. NTDs are birth defects of the brain and spinal cord. One of the most common types of NTD is spina bifida, a defect in which the spinal column fails to form properly.

Around 80 babies are born in Ireland with NTDs every year, however as many as 70% of these could be avoided if women took folic acid.

The vitamin should be taken in the three months before conception and for the first three months of a pregnancy. However, as up to half of all pregnancies are thought to be unplanned, the policy in Ireland has been to recommend that all women of childbearing age should take it.

This latest survey from Safefood found that 95% of women are now aware of the benefits of taking folic acid, however, only 30-36% are actually taking it, a figure described as ‘far too low'.

"It's encouraging that knowledge around folic acid is high and women know what it is, what it does and who should take it, but most women in the relevant age group are not taking this preventative supplement or not taking it before they become pregnant. At 30% to 36% this is still far too low. Folic acid is widely available and cheap - a year's supply can cost less than a single takeaway coffee," explained Dr Cliodhna Foley-Nolan of Safefood.

The survey of over 1,600 women found that 60% felt that women should take folic acid all of the time, whether planning a pregnancy or not. A further 37% felt they should take it before getting pregnant and for the first three months of a pregnancy.

Dr Foley-Nolan noted that while there has been an increase in women taking the vitamin even though they are not planning a pregnancy, ‘this is from a very low starting point and there's still a great deal of room to improve'.

"For a healthy mum and baby, we simply can't get enough folic acid from our food alone, even with fortified foods. Taking a daily folic acid supplement of 400mcg is the only way to go," she insisted.

She noted that one reason why some women may be hesitant about taking folic acid is because it suggests that they are actively trying to get pregnant. She said that this mindset needs to change and it must be acknowledged that over 50% of pregnancies are unplanned.

The survey coincides with the latest phase of Safefood's folic acid campaign, ‘Babies Know the Facts About Folic'. According to Safefood CEO, Ray Dolan, this campaign has the potential to prevent two-thirds of NTDs every year - around 50 babies annually.

"We've already seen some significant changes in behaviour among women who say they take folic acid regularly and with this latest phase of the campaign, we're working hard to convert this awareness into action," he explained.

Speaking about her experience of spina bifida, mother of two girls, Fiona Shannon, explained that during both her pregnancies, she started taking folic acid around six weeks into pregnancy.

Her youngest daughter, now aged 11, was diagnosed with spina bifida at 24 weeks.

"With both my girls, I found out early on that I was pregnant so it wasn't like either pregnancy came as a surprise. But I didn't start taking folic acid until after I found out that I was pregnant. Both my pregnancies were planned, but the importance of folic acid wasn't really pushed as much as it is now, or I would have been taking it well before we had conceived.

"As a family, we've experienced first-hand how not taking it can impact on someone's life. Taking a folic acid tablet a day is so simple and so easy. It doesn't mean you're planning a baby. But it does mean when you have a baby, however far in the future that might be, you're already helping to protect their health," she said.

For more information on folic acid, click here


[Posted: Mon 21/11/2016]

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