Moms-to-be are faced with about a million decisions when it comes to their health and the health of their unborn child. Between all the rules (no sushi, cold cuts that haven’t been thoroughly heated, unpasteurized cheese, bean sprouts, runny eggs or rare beef) and their elders who constantly remind them of all the things they did during their own pregnancy (“our kids turned out just fine!”), it can be a tough nine-to-10 months to navigate full of doubt and self-questioning.
Never mind the judgement from others who can sometimes see your body as public property.
But the one thing we don’t often think twice about is something that’s been long recommended by health professionals — folate.
As any expecting mama will tell you, taking a folic acid supplement has been long recommended during early pregnancy as it has been shown to help eliminate neural tube defects during the baby’s development. It has also been linked to helping with postpartum depression, which means many women continue taking it long after physically giving birth. In fact, it’s pretty much a staple in any given prenatal pill, something pregnant women are encouraged to take once a day.
But it seems as though there may be something to that old saying “too much of a good thing,” and that taking too much folate could actually be harmful during pregnancy. Or so says a new study from John Hopkins.
Researchers there published a report that found women who had “excessive amounts” of Vitamin B12 — which is found in animal and dairy products — had triple the likelihood of their babies developing an autism spectrum disorder. Even scarier? Women who had more than an “adequate level” of folate had double the likelihood.
So what constitutes an adequate level of folate, exactly?
“The World Health Organization says that between 13.5 and 45.3 nanomoles per liter is an adequate amount of folate for a woman in her first trimester of pregnancy. Unlike with folate, there are not well-established thresholds for adequate vitamin B12 levels,” the report says.
The study took place from 1998 to 2013 and followed 1,391 moms and their babies over the course of several years. The mom’s folate levels were checked between one and three days of delivery, with a link being established between ASD and moms who had more than four times the “adequate amount” of folate in their system (more than 59 nanomoles per litre).
Basically what that boils down to is to stick with the recommended dose given by your family doctor, midwife or obstetrician before, during and following the pregnancy. It’s also important to keep in mind that there’s a difference between folate — a naturally occurring vitamin in fruits and vegetables — and folic acid, which is the manufactured variety in pill and fortified cereal form.
Sticking to a healthy diet is always recommended during pregnancy, with expectant moms being encouraged to follow Health Canada’s Guidelines, which recommends 0.4 mg of folic acid every day.
It’s also important to keep in mind that most moms are just doing the best they can, and that more research is needed to determine the exact cause and effect here.
“A large majority of the mothers in the study reported having taken multivitamins – which would include folic acid and vitamin B12 – throughout pregnancy. But the researchers say they don’t know exactly why some of the women had such high levels in their blood,” the study quotes. “It could be that they consumed too many folic acid-fortified foods or took too many supplements. Or it could be that some women are genetically predisposed to absorbing greater quantities of folate or metabolizing it slower, leading to the excess. Or it could be a combination of the two.”
The lesson here? Mom guilt starts long before the actual delivery. If you’re having self-doubts or are unsure about your diet, your best bet is to talk to your health professional.