A baby's gestational age was determined by ultrasound between 10 and 14 weeks of pregnancy. Folic acid supplementation history was reported to the researchers by the women.
The researchers found that women who took a folic acid supplement for at least a year prior to becoming pregnant reduced their risk of preterm delivery between 20 and 28 weeks of gestation by 70 percent. A year of folic acid supplementation dropped the risk of delivering during weeks 28 through 32 by 50 percent, according to the study.
"This study saw a huge decrease in spontaneous preterm delivery for women who took folic acid for one year prior to conception. Now we can add prevention of prematurity to the mix of reasons for all women to take an additional folic acid supplement," said Dr. Alan Fleischman, senior vice president and medical director of the March of Dimes.
Results of the study were to be presented Thursday at the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine annual meeting, in Dallas. Fleischman noted that the current findings are preliminary and need to be published in a peer-reviewed medical journal.
In the meantime, Wenstrom said she believes that everyone -- both male and female -- should take a daily folic acid supplement in addition to a multivitamin containing folic acid.
"Cereal and grain products are fortified with folic acid, but the level of fortification isn't optimal. Folic acid influences so many things. It reduces the risk of stroke, cardiovascular disease, and it prevents birth defects," she said. "It's a simple preventive measure for a variety of severe problems."
The March of Dimes recommends that women take 400 micrograms daily of folic acid before becoming pregnant, and continuing to take folic acid throughout the pregnancy.
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