Seven per cent of all babies born are low birth weight (less than 2.4kg or 5.5lbs) and they have a 50 per cent chance of having a severely disabling condition as a result of being too light. Healthy birth weights are also generally a marker for good health in infancy and later life.
Gynecologists say that many women are missing the critical first few weeks of gestation during which their baby really needs folic acid to grow and develop because advice on the nutrient is not handed out until women go for their first pregnancy check-up which is too late.
Latest research shows that women planning to have a baby should increase their Folate intake if they want their child to reach optimal weight. Folic acid is already known to prevent birth defects but the new study is thought to be the first to link Folate levels in mothers in early pregnancy with birth weight.
Researchers from UK, examined nearly 1,000 women and their newborn babies and found that women in early pregnancy with lower levels of Folate were more likely to have a lighter and less healthy baby. Researchers say by their study they intend to boost the cause for fortification.
The recent study was based on blood samples taken from 998
expectant mothers. Researchers recorded the amount of folate in their red blood cells - the cells can show activity over the previous three months and can gather lifestyle information, such as smoking habits, from a questionnaire, as well as the weight of each baby when born. It was seen that Folate status was found to be "a significant predictor of birth weight".
Folic acid is thought to influence birth weight because it is an essential nutrient for growth and gene expression in the foetus. Smoking is likely to reduce a women's folate levels because it is a significant source of oxidative stress and may alter the ability of the cell to metabolise and ultimately store the vitamin.
Thus researchers say fortifying a range of foods promises to be a more effective solution than a campaign to encourage women to take folic acid supplements.