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Folate intake in pregnancy is good -- but it may not prevent preterm birth

Folate is a valuable nutrient, especially for pregnant women. Studies show adequate intake of folate -- or folic acid -- just before pregnancy and during pregnancy can significantly reduce the risk of spinal cord defects. However, a new study shows one thing folate apparently can’t do: lower the risk of preterm birth.

Researchers have long wondered if the amount of folate in the diet would have an impact on preterm birth. One previous study suggested that it might help. Preterm birth is a big problem in the United States, with about 12% of babies born too early.

In the new study, scientists examined data from the Norwegian Mother and Child Cohort Study, which includes 72,989 children. The data include questionnaires from women about their folate intake during pregnancy. The study did not show any difference in dietary folate intake or folate supplementation and preterm birth.

Still, women should get about 400 micrograms of folate per day before pregnancy and about 600 mcg. per day during pregnancy, according to the March of Dimes.

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The research is being presented Thursday at the annual meeting of the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine in San Francisco.

Related: Folic acid levels are high enough in most people -- except the right people.

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