Fewer than 40% of U.S. women are taking folic acid supplements periconceptionally at a time when the risk of neural tube defects (NTDs) can be reduced by supplementation. A better understanding of the vitamin-taking habits of childbearing-age women and effective methods for improving periconceptional supplement use are needed.
A telephone survey conducted through the California Teratogen Information Service (TIS) between August 2003 and January 2004 assessed the prevalence and characteristics of pregnant callers who did not use folic acid supplements in the periconceptional period, and explored attitudes toward advice to continue vitamin use following pregnancy in order to be protected in a future pregnancy.
A total of 327 pregnant women who called the TIS for information agreed to participate in the survey. More than half (53.2%) were not taking folic acid-containing supplements in the periconceptional period. Predictors of lack of use included a higher prepregnancy body mass index, younger maternal age, non-white race/ethnicity, lower education level, and unplanned pregnancy. One-quarter of the women said they would be willing to continue taking vitamins after the pregnancy if advised to do so by a physician. The remainder identified obstacles to following that advice--notably, not planning to become pregnant again and the belief that enough folate is derived from diet alone.
More than half of the callers to the TIS were not compliant with recommendations regarding periconceptional folic acid supplementation. This represents an opportunity for TIS specialists and physicians to intervene in a current pregnancy to encourage maintenance of supplement use in the subsequent interpregnancy interval.