To prevent serious birth defects women are encouraged to take folic acid before conceiving and during early pregnancy. Folic acid is a vitamin B found in mostly green leafy vegetables and even orange juice.
Studies have found that women who do take folic acid before pregnancy and up to three months during conception reduce the risks of serious birth defects by up to 70%. Only 50 % of pregnancies are planned, so taking folic acid early on in the pregnancy will help bring the risk down.
The most common birth defect is spina bifida; this is when the spinal cord and spinal column are not closed completely leaving the brain underdeveloped and causing brain tissue to protrude out of the skin from an abnormal opening in the skull.
While taking folic acid will help prevent birth defects, new studies have found that women who take folic acid are more likely to have babies that wheeze and suffer from asthma. This study was done in Norway and included 32,077 babies with their mothers with the mothers stating their dietary habits and intake of supplements. The data was collected between 2000 – 2005 before being analysed. Apart from wheezing and asthma these babies were also found to be 24 % more likely to be admitted in to hospital for respiratory infections.