In the News: Folic acid supplements cuts risk of premature births by 70%

A new study suggests that thousands of premature births a year could be prevented if women made sure they took folic acid – a form of vitamin B – not just when they get pregnant, but also in the run up to pregnancy. In the UK around 45,000 babies are born prematurely each year and they have a higher risk of breathing problems, life threatening infections and learning and other disabilities (with the most premature babies being the worst affected) than those babies born at full term.

Researchers from the University of Texas found that women who took the supplement for at least a year before conception were up to 70 per cent less likely to give birth prematurely. Pregnant women are already advised to take folic acid from when they stop using contraception until 12 weeks into pregnancy to cut their babies’ risk of developing birth and spine defects, such as spina bifida, but this new study makes it clear that they should consider taking it long before they try to start a family.


The study tracked the pregnancies of almost 35,000 women. Some of the women had taken folic acid for at least a year before becoming pregnant, others for shorter periods of time and others not at all. Over 1,600 women gave birth to premature babies and it was found that taking folic acid for more than a year cut the odds of the baby being born before 28 weeks by 70 per cent and the chances of birth between 28 and 32 weeks by half. Using the supplement for less than a year had a smaller effect. Researchers speculate that folic acid cuts the risk of infection, a common cause of premature births.


In my opinion all women should take 400mcg of folic acid a day – the amount advised to prevent spina bifida in pregnant women – from well before they plan to start a family. (It’s contained in that amount in the Fertility Plus for Women supplement I use in the clinic.)

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