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Periconception folic acid supplementation, fetal growth and the risks of low birth weight and preterm birth: the Generation R Study

  • Sarah Timmermans (a1) (a2), Vincent W. V. Jaddoe (a1) (a3) (a4), Albert Hofman (a3), Régine P. M. Steegers-Theunissen (a2) (a3) (a4) (a5) and Eric A. P. Steegers (a2)
  • DOI:
  • Published online: 14 September 2009

Countries worldwide, including the Netherlands, recommend that women planning pregnancy use a folic acid supplement during the periconception period. Some countries even fortify staple foods with folic acid. These recommendations mainly focus on the prevention of neural tube defects, despite increasing evidence that folic acid may also influence birth weight. We examined whether periconception folic acid supplementation affects fetal growth and the risks of low birth weight, small for gestational age (SGA) and preterm birth, in the Generation R Study in Rotterdam, the Netherlands. Main outcome measures were fetal growth measured in mid- and late pregnancy by ultrasound, birth weight, SGA and preterm birth in relation to periconception folic supplementation (0·4–0·5 mg). Data on 6353 pregnancies were available. Periconception folic acid supplementation was positively associated with fetal growth. Preconception folic acid supplementation was associated with 68 g higher birth weight (95 % CI 37·2, 99·0) and 13 g higher placental weight (95 % CI 1·1, 25·5), compared to no folic acid supplementation. In these analyses parity significantly modified the effect estimates. Start of folic acid supplementation after pregnancy confirmation was associated with a reduced risk of low birth weight (OR 0·61, 95 % CI 0·40, 0·94). Similarly, reduced risks for low birth weight and SGA were observed for women who started supplementation preconceptionally, compared to those who did not use folic acid (OR 0·43, 95 % CI 0·28, 0·69 and OR 0·40, 95 % CI 0·22, 0·72). In conclusion, periconception folic acid supplementation is associated with increased fetal growth resulting in higher placental and birth weight, and decreased risks of low birth weight and SGA.

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*Corresponding author: Dr Sarah Timmermans, fax +31 10 7036815, email
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