Background: Neural tube defects (NTDs) are major congenital malformations that are potentially preventable if the woman takes periconceptional folic acid (FA) supplements. A recent report found that NTD incidence had increased in Ireland. This study examined the usage of FA supplementation in women presenting for antenatal care in a maternity hospital.
Methods: Women were recruited at their convenience in the first trimester. Their clinical and sociodemographic details were computerized. Maternal weight and height were measured before calculating body mass index. Detailed FA questionnaires were completed under supervision of a trained researcher.
Results: While 96.1% (n = 564) out of 587 reported that they took FA after they became pregnant, only 24.7% (n = 145) took it for >12 weeks preconceptionally as recommended. Only 5.7% (n = 6) of obese women took high-dose FA as recommended. On univariate analysis, the strongest predictors of preconceptional FA usage were higher maternal age, higher education and income, being married, being nulliparous, not smoking, infertility treatment and planned pregnancy. On multivariate analysis, both planned pregnancy and nulliparity were the most important predictors of preconceptional FA use.
Conclusions: Our study shows that current recommendations to prevent NTDs by FA supplementation pre-pregnancy are not being fully implemented in Ireland. We recommend a review of current public health policies on FA supplementation.
Keywords: Ireland; folic acid supplementation; neural tube defects; planned pregnancy.
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