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Folic acid intake during pregnancy is related to the baby’s neuropsychological development

Folic acid intake during pregnancy is related to the baby’s neuropsychological developmentFolic acid is important for fetal growth and development, and that is why pregnant women have an increased need for the nutrient. It is commonly known that supplementation with folic acid during pregnancy lowers the risk of spina bifida. A new study shows that maternal intake of folic acid in the late part of pregnancy is of vital importance for the baby’s lingual development at the age of two years. This was shown in a study that is published in Epidemiology. Unfortunately, many pregnant women forget to take their folic acid supplements.

Folic acid (vitamin B9) is a water-soluble vitamin with an important role in the production of amino acids, DNA synthesis, cell division, and red blood cell formation. Adequate amounts of folic acid are also important for fetal growth and development. The expecting mother therefore risks becoming deficient. Lack of folic acid in the beginning of pregnancy increases the baby’s risk of spina bifida that can lead to severe disabilities, heart defects, and stillbirth. In order to avoid this, pregnant women are advised to take a folic acid supplement, starting as soon at the time the pregnancy is planned and continuing at least 12 weeks into the pregnancy. A daily dose of 400-800 mg is typically recommended.
Research has shown that lack of folic acid may affect the baby’s brain and neuropsychological development, which picks up in speed in the last part of the pregnancy. Animal studies demonstrate that lack of folic acid in the final part of pregnancy affects the development and function of the brain in the offspring. Human studies have also shown a certain relation between maternal intake of folic acid and the baby’s cognitive functions. However, due to different study methods, the results are not entirely consistent.

  • Folic acid is the synthetic form of the nutrient that is found in vitamin pills
  • Folate or folacin are natural forms of the nutrient that are found in food
  • The vitamin is water-soluble
  • Folate is destroyed by overcooking and heating

The study result: Folic acid supplements are important during the entire pregnancy

The aim of the new study was to show how levels of folic acid in different trimesters was related to the children’s neuropsychological development at two years of age.
The study was only conducted on women, who were expecting one baby. The researchers measured levels of folic acid in serum three times: at week 12-14, at week 22-26, and at week 34-36. Also, the concentration of folic acid in red blood cells was measured after week 12-14.
Two years after the babies were born, the scientists studied 180 of the children with an evenly distributed number of boys and girls and assessed them according to the GDS scale (Gesell Development Scale). This scale looks at the development of gross motor skills, fine motor skills, language, behavioral adaption, and social behavior. The study revealed a significant link between maternal folic acid status in the last months of pregnancy and language development at the age of two. The study also showed that the mother’s folic acid status in the beginning of her pregnancy influenced the baby’s fine motor skills. According to the scientists, this shows how important it is to continue taking folic acid supplements throughout the entire pregnancy.
The study is published in Epidemiology

Deficiencies and poor utilization of folic acid can be caused by

  • Pregnancy
  • Poor diet
  • Alcohol and substance abuse
  • Smoking
  • Poor absorption from the small intestine
  • Birth control pills


Xiangyuan Huang et al. Maternal folate levels during pregnancy and children´s neuropsychological development at 2 years of age. Epidemiology 2020

Debra Sullivan. What to know about folate deficiency. Medical News Today 2019

Ernæringsrådet. Folsyre til kvinder, der planlægger graviditet – kun få følger anbefalingerne

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