FRIDAY, Aug. 5, 2005 (HealthDay News) -- Women with lower levels of folic acid in their body during early pregnancy are more likely to have low birth weight babies, according to a report in the current issue of the British Journal of Nutrition.
The University of Newcastle upon Tyne study included nearly 1,000 women and their newborn babies, and the researchers found that women with higher levels of folic acid (folate) were more likely to have babies with higher, more healthy, birth weights.
Folic acid is found in fruits, cereals and green vegetables.
The study also found that pregnant women who smoked were more likely than nonsmokers to have lower levels of folic acid in their blood. This finding may help explain why women smokers often have babies with lower birth weights.
"Folic acid is highly important in preventing birth defects which affect a small number of pregnancies. This study suggests that it is also important in every pregnancy to help the developing baby reach a healthy birth weight. However, many women are missing this crucial window in the first few weeks of gestation during which their baby really needs folic acid to grow and develop," researcher Dr. Caroline Relton said in a prepared statement.
Research suggests that folic acid influences a baby's birth weight because it's an essential nutrient for growth and gene expression in the fetus. Smoking is believed to alter the ability of cells to metabolize and store folic acid.
The U.S. National Women's Health Information Center has more about folic acid.