Moms who get enough folic acid and iron during pregnancy may be giving their babies' intelligence a boost, according to a study conducted in rural Nepal that found children born to mothers who had received prenatal supplements of iron and folic acid were smarter, more organized, and had better fine motor skills than children whose mothers did not receive supplementation.
Published December 22, 2010, in the Journal of the American Medical Association, the study, conducted by researchers from Johns Hopkins University, studied 676 school-age children in Nepal whose mothers had been in a clinical trial in which some got iron and folic acid supplements and other nutrients while they were pregnant. About 80 percent of the children—aged 7 to 9—were enrolled in school.
"What we showed is prenatal iron and folic acid supplementation had a significant impact on the offspring's intellectual level and motor ability and ability during school age, which was a very exciting finding," says study author Parul Christian, an expert in international health at the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health.
As reported by Reuters Health, iron deficiency is the most common and widespread nutritional disorder in the world, affecting two billion people. Early iron deficiency can interfere with nerve development, biochemistry, and metabolism, hampering both intellectual and fine motor development. Adequate folic acid intake can help prevent serious neural tube birth defects.
But as Christian points out, "Few studies have examined whether micronutrient supplementation during gestation, a critical period of central nervous system development, affects children later in life."
"Considering the significant role of iron and folic acid in the development of both intellectual and motor skills, [prenatal] use per international guidelines should be expanded in many low and middle-income settings where program coverage continues to be poor," Christian adds.
In other words, make sure you are getting enough iron and folic acid during pregnancy—your child will thank you later. Discuss with your doctor or midwife the amount that's right for you. Current recommended prenatal intake guidelines for iron is 27 mg per day; for folic acid, women are recommended to take in 400 mcg per day.