Women Trying to Conceive Should Say Yes to Folic Acid, No to Alcohol

Nutrient deficiency and consumption of alcohol and drugs are considered major risk factors causing chronic illnesses and complications in infants in addition to genetic mutations. Women who intend to get pregnant should initiate folic acid supplementation and cease use of alcohol and drugs, says a study published in American Journal of Health Promotion.

This advice is in line with preconception care (PCC). The PCC comprises counselling with the health care professional before attempting conception. It includes catering biomedical and social-behavioural healthcare interventions to optimize health of women and their partners prior to conceiving the baby which improves health outcomes both for couples and infants.

Both men and women can benefit from preconception care therapy whether or not they want to get pregnant. The U.S Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends taking 400 micrograms of folic acid every day to prevent major brain and spinal cord birth defects in babies. Moreover, CDC advises stopping smoking, drinking alcohol, and drugs use as these can cause serious birth defects and premature births.

Furthermore, alcohol consumption before and during pregnancy in women causes cluster of complications called fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASDs) which can be treated if alcohol consumption is ceased. Alcohol consumption causes the toxic chemicals to pass from the mother’s blood into the baby’s blood and damage the growth of the baby’s cells resulting in brain and spinal cord defects called Spina Bifida.

Source: CDC.

The study of Preconception care (PCC)

The study conducted by researchers at Division of Obstetrics and Fetal Medicine, Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Erasmus University Medical Center, the Netherlands. Study participants were 259 poor women aged 18 to 41 years old living in disadvantaged locality of 14 Dutch municipalities. They were encouraged to visit the general physician or midwife for required Preconception care (PCC) consultation before conceiving the child.

The study was a “community based prospective cohort study” was done to study the effect of PCC care consultation on women who are trying to get pregnant. The study plan included tracing behavioural and health changes in women with an interval of three months. During their first visit, risk factors were assessed via questionnaire including questions related to lifestyle, family history, medical, and reproduction history. Based on the retrieved information from questionnaires, over 36% women were not using folic acid supplements, more than 22% women drank alcohol every week, 12% smoked, and over 17% did binge drinking. However, all the participants were given advice to national guidelines and recommendations to ensure proper PCC care.

During second interval which was after 3 months, risk factors aggravating the behavioural and health changes were evaluated. Following the PCC care, the subsequent changes in behaviour and body were analysed to initiate the care regimen and compare with the baseline behavioural and health measure obtained at the time of starting the PCC care.

It was observed that comprehensive PCC consultation interventions had a beneficial effect on initiation of folic acid supplements, termination of smoking, cessation of alcohol and drug use. It guaranteed better lifestyle changes during the follow-up of 3 months interval. However, the study was limited as the sample size was low and the follow-up time for participants was varying.

Our study is one the few studies looking at actual preconception lifestyle behavioural change. The results suggest that a comprehensive PCC intervention has beneficial effects on initiation of folic acid supplementation and cessation of binge drinking in women who intend to become pregnant, says author of the study.

Source: Public Health Agency of Canada, Canada.

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