One in two women of child-bearing age is not taking folate supplements as recommended by their doctors, which puts their babies’ health at risk.
During a recent world congress on gynecology in Paris (1), experts claimed that more than 4,500 European pregnancies per year are affected by neural tube disorders (NTDs), such as spina bifida and anencephaly, with 70 percent of these cases believed to be preventable simply through timely folate supplementation. In addition, the prevalence of European NTDs has declined only marginally in the past 10 years, suggesting a lack of awareness among pregnant women.
A woman’s folate requirement increases by 50 percent during pregnancy, and most European health associations recommend pregnant women a dietary intake of 600mcg each day. However, consuming the recommended daily dosage through purely dietary means during pregnancy would be challenging for most people, experts said. Considering that the average European woman’s daily folate intake ranges from 122mcg to 339mcg, folate supplementation would be an essential prerequisite for optimal pregnancy and infant development.
Women need to understand why folate is necessary and how it will benefit them and their babies. It is essential that gynecologists regularly explain to their patients why folate is important during pregnancy – even when a woman is not planning to conceive. Particularly because, as it is known, half of all pregnancies are unplanned. Governments and healthcare organizations should create new and innovative campaigns that encourage the uptake of folate supplementation before and during pregnancy and highlight the consequences of not doing so.