July 3, 2007 / 6:16 PM / 12 years ago

Few aware of pre-conception folic acid benefits

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Most women are aware that getting enough folic acid during pregnancy can help prevent some birth defects, but many don’t know that they should be taking the vitamin before they become pregnant, a new survey shows.

Researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta, Georgia, found that while 78 percent of women in Oklahoma who delivered babies in 2000-2003 were aware of the benefits of folic acid, 73 percent didn’t take multivitamins at least four times weekly in the month before they became pregnant.

The CDC team also found that 85 percent of the women hadn’t gone to see a health-care provider for preconception counseling before getting pregnant — including 72 percent of those who had planned to become pregnant.

The findings of the survey can be used to help target outreach to women who may not be aware of the steps they can take to improve their health before pregnancy, say editors of the CDC publication Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

For example, the current survey found that unmarried women and those who weren’t planning to become pregnant, as well as those younger than 20 and those who had not completed high school, were less likely to be aware of the benefits of folic acid or to take multivitamins before becoming pregnant.

The researchers also found that women who had previously delivered children, those who weren’t planning to become pregnant, Hispanic women, and those without health insurance were less likely to see a health care professional before becoming pregnant.

Women who have already had children may not feel they need preconception counseling, the editorialists note, but new health concerns may arise after their previous delivery.

Given that nearly 60 percent of all pregnancies in Oklahoma during the current study were unintended, “efforts to promote preconception health should target all women of reproductive age who are capable of becoming pregnant,” they conclude.

SOURCE: Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, June 28, 2007.

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