Expectant mothers are already encouraged to take folic acid from one month before birth to help prevent neural tube defects. But new research also shows that folic acid could have the added benefit of protecting against mouth clefts in babies.
Researchers from the California Birth Defects Monitoring Program discovered that fewer mothers gave birth to babies with clefts if they had been taking multivitamins which included folic acid.
They questioned 731 mothers who had infants with the deformity and compared them with 734 mothers who had given birth to normal babies. They found that women who were taking a multivitamin pill around the time of conception reduced the risk of mouth clefts in their babies by between 25 and 50 per cent.
However, they could not be absolutely definite that folic acid alone was the reason; it may have something to do with any constituent of the multivitamin (The Lancet, August 12, 1995).