A new study was recently published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) revealing that folic acid intake during the first eight weeks of pregnancy has a significant impact on language development up to three years after birth. According to the study, infants born to mothers who took folic acid early were less likely to suffer from delays in language development. Folic acid is commonly given to pregnant women via prenatal vitamins to reduce the risk of neural tube defects.
Nearly 40,000 infants were included in the study. Infants were born between 1999 and 2008. Mothers took questionnaires until 2010. The questionnaires were particularly focused on folic acid intake from one month prior to pregnancy until eight weeks post pregnancy.
Of the entire study group, 0.5% presented with language delays at three years of age. That equates to just more than 200 children. When researchers broke down the participants based on folic acid intake, they found 0.9% of children born to mothers leaving out folic acid before and during pregnancy suffered language problems, but only 0.4% of children born to mothers who took folic acid supplements suffered the same problems. While the difference between the two groups is minute, in terms of global population, 0.5% is a huge number of children.
Researchers believe that folic acid intake prior to pregnancy and during pregnancy is more significant than they once thought. In addition to helping prevent neural tube defects, it may also help prevent developmental delays, but only in terms of language development. When gross motor development was compared in between groups in the study, there appeared to be no difference between children born to mothers taking folic acid and children born to mothers who did not take folic acid. For the purpose of the study, gross language development delay was defined as speaking just one word or no understandable words by the age of three. Children with slight language delays were not included in the final results.
Source: Christine Roth, Per Magnus, Synnve Schjolberg, Camilla Stoltenberg, Pal Suren, Ian W. McKeague, George Davey Smith, Ted Reichborn-Kjennerud, Ezra Susser. The Journal of the American Medical Association. 12 October, 2011.