The need for pregnant women to take folic acid, the B vitamin that ensures proper brain and spinal development, is crucial. Without it, babies are prone to spina bifida that affects the lower spine and nerves to the legs, and hydrocephalus, which prevents normal brain growth.
Mums to be should ideally take it months before conceiving, but certainly from a positive pregnancy test until the end of the “sensitive period” 12 weeks into the pregnancy.
However, many pregnancies are unplanned and some women can’t access the recommended folic acid supplements. So they and their unborn babies are vulnerable.
So what’s to be done? Well, the Government has come up with a scheme to fortify flour with folic acid in a bid to tackle foetal abnormalities.
The UK has some of the highest levels of abnormalities in Europe.
Many women currently don’t get enough folate during pregnancy, and there are about 1,000 pregnancies affected by abnormalities each year.
The plan should be an effective way to ensure women achieve adequate folate levels, although the fortification of flour with folic acid won’t protect against these defects entirely.
I believe this move would reach women who are most at risk, especially those with a low income and those who didn’t plan to become pregnant.
Experts are of the same mind. Professor Louis Levy of Public Health England says: “The vast majority of women between 16-49 have
blood folate levels below global thresholds, highlighting a risk of neural tube defect-affected pregnancies.
“Comprehensive evidence shows that mandatory fortification of flour would go a long way towards reducing the number of complications some experience during pregnancy.”
Public Health Minister Steve Brine said: “All women should be able to access the nutrients they need for a healthy pregnancy and, in turn, reduce the risk of devastating complications.
“We have agreed that now is the right time to explore whether fortification in flour is the right approach for the UK. My priority is to make sure that if introduced, we are certain it is safe and beneficial for all.”
Chief Medical Officer Professor Dame Sally Davies believes “that fortifying flour with folic acid is a practical way of reducing folate deficiencies in pregnant women and reducing birth defects.
“I am pleased to see the Government taking action on this issue, which could benefit and improve the lives of many women and babies in this country.” Hear, hear!