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Many Women Still Don't Take Folic Acid Before Conception

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WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Gary D. Vogin, MD

Sept. 5, 2001 -- Although the role of folic acid in preventing certain birth defects is established, many women of childbearing age don't seem to be heeding the message before they conceive, a new poll suggests.

Why? Their doctors aren't routinely telling them to take a daily multivitamin -- containing 400 micrograms of folic acid -- before conception, according to a poll of more than 2,000 women aged 18 to 45. Conducted for the March of Dimes, the survey follows up four previous polls of women's knowledge and behavior regarding a healthy pregnancy.

Folic acid supplementation before conception and during the first trimester of pregnancy is known to reduce risk for neural tube birth defects. Such birth defects -- including spina bifida and anencephaly -- affect 4,000 pregnancies per year resulting in 2,500 to 3,000 U.S. births annually. Spina bifida, or open spine, occurs when the backbone never closes completely and is a leading cause of childhood paralysis. Anencephaly is marked by a severely underdeveloped brain and skull.

The new survey found that awareness of the role folic acid plays in a healthy pregnancy jumped from 52% to 79% from 1995 to 2001 but, overall, just under 30% of women of childbearing age report taking a multivitamin on a daily basis.

However, only 7% of women knew that folic acid should be taken before they become pregnant, and more than three-quarters say their doctors haven't discussed the benefits of folic acid with them. Among women who didn't take a daily multivitamin, one in five said they would be more likely to do so if their doctor recommended it.

"We want to emphasize the importance of taking a daily multivitamin before and during pregnancy," says Janis Biermann, director of the National Folic Acid Campaign at the March of Dimes in White Plains, N.Y.

Half of all pregnancies in the U.S. are unplanned, Biermann says. "The neural tube forms by 28 days, so if you are not taking 400 micrograms of folic acid on a daily basis, you wouldn't be afforded the possible prevention."

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