Folic Acid - Mums-to-be are putting their unborn babies at risk
Mums-to-be are putting their unborn babies at risk
Mums-to-be are putting their unborn babies at risk because they aren't getting enough folic acid.
Women are advised to take the supplement every day for three months before and after conception to help the development of their baby.
It can reduce the risk of severe or often fatal neural tube defects in infants by an estimated 80% or more if women take it before conceiving.
But a study of births across Europe and Israel has discovered no reduction in the number of children being born with the condition since the early 90s, when folic acid promotion began.
The report's authors estimate thousands of pregnancies which would have been healthy have been affected by defects since 1992.
During pregnancy the neural tube in a foetus develops to form the spinal cord, brain and spine.
When spina bifida occurs, the tube is split and one or more vertebrae fail to form properly, thus leaving a gap.
In the study, researchers examined the list of cases of spina bifida and anencephaly - a condition that affects the formation of the brain and skull - among liveborn infants, stillbirths and pregnancy terminations between 1988 to 1998.
A graph of the rates of neural tube defects per 10,000 births, from 1988 to 1998, showed virtually no change, at around seven instances per 10,000 births, for pregnancies in England and Wales in the period after the Government started promoting folic acid.
The report, published last week in the British Medical Journal, said: "In this study, covering more than 13 million births, rates of neural tube defects showed no detectable change associated with recommendations to consume more folic acid.
"Either rates were unchanged or the decline was similar to that observed during the period before the recommendations.
"From these data, we estimate that thousands of pregnancies that would otherwise have been healthy were affected by neural tube defects in the study area alone since 1992."
Newcastle Gp Mike Scott said he was also worried that women weren't taking folic acid.
Dr Scott, of Newburn Surgery, said: "The majority of women I see in my antenatal clinic did not take folic acid before they conceived and this is very worrying.
"The risk of spina bifida is not high but even a small risk is worth eliminating because the consequences can be very difficult.
"We know pregnancies are unplanned but even those who are planning to start a family are not taking the supplements and putting their babies at risk.
"For older women, in particular, whose risk of having babies with things like spina bifida increases, it's crucial you get the recommended 400mcg of the folic acid.
"It really is worth taking it because it is a natural vitamin which has no side-effects and no downsides and it's very cheap to buy."