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Folic Acid Consumption May Reduce Risk of Early Preterm Births

Folic acid consumption for a year or more before conception is associated with a 50%–70% decrease in early (but not late) spontaneous preterm births and the longer a woman takes folic acid supplements before becoming pregnant, the lower her risk of a preterm birth. These are the conclusions of researchers reporting recently in PLoS Medicine. The findings are particularly significant because premature babies (born before 37 weeks of completed pregnancy) are more likely to die than full-term babies and many have short- and/or long-term health problems. The severity of these health problems depends on the degree of prematurity—preterm babies born between 34 and 36 weeks of pregnancy rarely develop severe disabilities, but a quarter of babies born before 28 weeks of pregnancy develop serious lasting disabilities and half have learning and behavioral problems. The researchers noted the folic acid consumption itself may not be the causative factor as it may be a marker for a healthier lifestyle in general. Nevertheless, they said, the results suggest that long-term folic acid supplementation before conception is worth investigating further as a potential way to prevent preterm births. [PLoS Medicine article]