Fears over birth faults as women fail to take folic acid
THERE could be a rise in the number of babies born with birth defects as women cut back on more expensive fortified foods during the recession, a new report has warned.
The report by doctors in Dublin's three main maternity hospitals -- the Rotunda, Holles Street and the Coombe -- voices serious concern at the failure by a majority of expectant mothers to ensure they are getting enough of the B vitamin folic acid, which helps reduce the chances of a baby being born with a neural tube defect that can cause spina bifida.
Mothers-to-be need to take 400 micrograms of folic acid a day in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. Women planning on becoming pregnant should take the vitamin prior to conception. However, the research shows that just 36pc had taken folic acid before pregnancy.
Doctors fear women are cutting back on foods which are fortified with the vitamin because they are more expensive as they "tighten their purchasing habits".
Foods naturally rich in folic acid include lentils, spinach and asapragus, whole wheat bread and pasta, and orange juice.
"It is possible that the decline in neural tube defects observed in the past decade may reverse," the researchers wrote in the 'Irish Medical Journal'.
The rate of neural tube defects is higher in Ireland than in many other European countries. The Health Service Executive (HSE) registry covering 37pc of births already shows an increase in these birth defects in 2007 and 2008 compared to the previous two years, according to the research.
The report pointed out that the Department of Health originally decided to make it mandatory for food manufacturers to add folic acid to staple foods to improve women's intake of the vitamin.
However, it backtracked after it received advice that the rate of these birth defects was falling and amid safety concerns over the level of folic acid added.
The survey of 300 women found that 95pc of them had heard of folic acid and 60pc knew it could prevent neural tube defects. Nearly 60pc were advised to take it but just 36pc did so before pregnancy. Nine in 10 took it during pregnancy.
"The finding of 36pc is disappointing considering it is nearly 18 years since it was first recommended in Ireland," the report found.