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Folic Acid, Iron During Pregnancy Improves Children's Skills


Women are told to get adequate folic acid both before and during pregnancy to help prevent birth defects. Now a new study finds that folic acid, along with iron, can improve their children’s intellectual and motor skills.

Mom’s good nutrition can improve her children’s skills

The study was conducted by Parul Christian, Dr.PH, of Johns Hopkins University, and colleagues, who followed 676 children aged 7 to 9 years who had been born to women who participated in a double-blind, randomized trial of prenatal micronutrient supplementation between 1999 and 2001 in Nepal. Study children were also in a placebo group of a subsequent preschool trial of iron and zinc supplementation.

Women in the study had been randomly assigned to take iron and folic acid, iron, folic acid, and zinc, or a multiple supplement that contain these three nutrients plus eleven others, all with vitamin A, versus a control group of vitamin A alone. Supplementation continued from early pregnancy through three months after delivery. These children received only vitamin A supplementation biannually.

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Researchers found that children whose mothers took prenatal folic acid, iron, and vitamin A have better working memory, inhibitory control, and fine motor functioning than children whose mothers took vitamin A alone.

Several other studies have noted the importance of zinc during pregnancy. A woman’s requirement for zinc increases during pregnancy, mostly because the mineral is needed for development of the embryo and fetus as well as infant growth.

In a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, researchers reported that a choline deficiency in pregnant women could increase risk for heart defects during prenatal development. Choline is necessary for normal cell function, healthy nerve and brain functioning, and liver metabolism.

Proper nutrition before and during pregnancy is critical for the normal, healthy development of the fetus and the child. Results of this new study, published in the latest issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association, show that mothers who take iron and folic acid during pregnancy can help ensure their children have better skills.

Chan J et al. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 2010; 91:1035-43
Christian P et al. JAMA 2010; 304(24): 2716-23