Expected mothers have long been advised to avoid special foods during pregnancy. And it is also widely known that taking certain dietary supplements can help promote good health and well-being for both mom-to-be and her unborn children.
But while everyone has good intentions, many people simply forget to take the recommended vitamins, which can be of great benefit to their growing infants.
The most commonly recognized and promotional supplement is folic acid, which is said to help reduce the risk of certain birth defects. But at present only one in four women takes it before pregnancy – so health officials in the UK have put forward a proposal to fortify flour with folic acid in a move to reduce fetal abnormalities.
British public health director Steve Brine said that it would increase folate intake among pregnant women and, in turn, reduce their children's risk of spina bifida and other fetal injuries. And England's chief scientist Prof Dame Sally Davies said that the evidence showed that "folate acidification is a practical way to reduce folate deficiency in pregnant women and reduce birth defects."
"I'm pleased to see that the government is taking action on this issue and hopes that the wider scientific community will put its views on this important consultation, which could benefit and improve the lives of many women and children in this country," she said. "But as with all kinds of interventions, we must be sure that it is also safe, and that means we consider what the broader consequences would be for the rest of the population who eat flour."
Alison Wright, vice president of the Royal College of Obstetricians and gynecologists in Britain, said the college supports calls to strengthen flour with folic acid. "The proof is clear that the fortification will prevent about half of it [1,000 diagnoses of] neural tube defects, "she says." Fortified flour with folic acid is a simple, safe and evidence-based measure that will reach women who do not get enough folic acid through the diet, as well as those who may not have planned their pregnancy. "
A spokesman for the Ministry of Health said they were "aware of the UK media reports, but there is currently no policy associated with folic acid boost."
So, in the absence of enriched flour for pregnant women in this country, Dr Cliodhna Foley Nolan of Safefood Ireland says that all women who may become pregnant should make folic acid a daily habit, whether they are planning pregnancy or not. "Safefood Campaign" Babies Know the Facts About Folic "recalls that women taking a folic acid supplement daily are the best way to reduce the risk of having a baby with a neural tube defect that spina bifida, she says.
"For a healthy mother and a baby, the only way to get adequate levels of folic acid is to take it every day as a 400 microgram supplement and usually take a daily supplement is the only way to go. There has been a lot of New debate on the control of food with folic acid, but it is still part of it. But even with strong foods, the daily supplement provides the best protection for the unborn child's backbone and brain. "
Prof Michael Turner, UCD professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Coombe Women and Infants University Hospital says that women should start folic acid before getting pregnant and not waiting until they are planning pregnancy or until they become pregnant.
"Taking a 400 microgram folic acid supplement every day can potentially prevent two thirds of neural tube defects each year – on average, there are about 50 fewer children affected every year," he says.
And Dr Rhona Mahony, former champion at National Maternity Hospital, Holles Street, agrees:
"We know women are aware of the benefits of taking folic acid, but with up to 50 percent of all pregnancies being unscheduled, it's so important that all pregnant women start taking it daily, even if a baby is the last in their mind "she recommends. "A child's neural tube develops during the first weeks of pregnancy when many women may be unaware that they are pregnant and therefore they must make folic acid part of their daily routine."
In a recent online survey of Safefood, the most common barriers that women listed to take folic acid were of relevance to them (42 percent). Lack of advice on folic acid (40 percent); One believed that contraception was 100 percent effective (37 percent) and forgot to take folic acid (30 percent).
But Foley Nolan says folic acid is widely available, requires no prescription and does not cost more than a few cents a day.
"By taking it daily, women take control of their own health," she says. "That does not mean that you are planning a baby, but it means that when you have a baby, but upset or far in the future that may be, you are already helping to protect your health."
And midwife Tracy Donegan says folic acid is essential, natural folate is the best option.
"Most experts recommend taking 600 micrograms of folate daily to prevent major birth defects in the child's brain and backbone," says gentlebirth.ie founder. "Folic acid prevents these but it has no other health benefits of natural folate.
"Some folate is already in food but it can be difficult to get the recommended amount from your diet alone. For this reason, all women, and especially anyone planning a pregnancy, should consider taking a daily vitamin supplement that contains folate rather than folic acid when it is possible. "