Folic acid is a form of vitamin B, which occurs naturally in leafy green vegetables like spinach. It has been proven to aid the closure of the spinal cord during the early development of a foetus which helps to prevent spina bifida and other neural tube defects. Woman who are planning to become pregnant are recommended to take folic acid in supplement form for at least 12 weeks before they become pregnant. This ensures that the folic acid can build up in the system and be effective, as the baby’s spinal cord closes very early in the pregnancy. Often women don’t realise that they are pregnant and by the time they find out and start taking folic acid the tube may have already closed.
Aoife McKeating of the UCD Centre for Human Reproduction told the Sunday Times that for “women who are obese, the dosage should be even higher. Rather than the standard over-the-counter folic acid which is 400 micrograms, they should be taking five milligrams,” which requires a prescription. Of the group surveyed over four years in the Coombe hospital, less than 2 percent of the obese mothers were taking the higher dose. While less than 33 percent of the women with planned pregnancies were taking folic acid at all.
At Dublin’s Institute of Technology, Shona Cawley, a research dietician, has published new research in trends of folic acid consumption across a more general selection of pregnant women and found that while 96 percent of those surveyed took folic acid after they became pregnant less than 25 percent took the supplement for the recommended 12 weeks. Spina bifida is a relatively common condition in Ireland which affects approximately 1 in every 1000 babies born each year.