Universal pregnancy vitamins would have helped Kirsty

Written by Tom Freeman on 3 June 2016 in Feature

Analysis: universal vitamins a positive step to prevent birth defects, but what about pre-conception?

The announcement this week that every pregnant woman in Scotland is to receive a pack of vitamins is too late for Caley, the mother of our Holyrood baby Kirsty, but will make an impact from next Spring when it is rolled out.

Folic acid, in particular, is a key way to prevent a number of birth defects including spina bifida.

Some pregnant women already receive free vitamins, but the shift to a universalist approach ensures no one will be left out, and recognises poor choices in parenthood are not necessarily determined by class. 


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The move enjoys wide support among healthcare professionals. Chief Medical Officer for Scotland Catherine Calderwood said: “As an obstetrician I am delighted at this announcement.

“We understand the long term positive effects that good nutrition can have for pregnant women and offering these essential vitamins will help to improve the health of mothers, babies and children in Scotland.”

Jackie Tolland, Parents Network Scotland added: “Anything that we can do to give children the best start in life can only reap benefits in the years to come.

“Most parents do eat healthily and do look after themselves, but as we know being pregnant can drain energy and vitamins from mum. The whole range of support being put forward is a commitment to our future families, and also alongside the emotional support we provide to mums and dads, I’m sure we are now onto a winning formula.”

However if Scotland is serious about preventing birth defects like spina bifida, women should be encouraged to take folic acid before they become pregnant. Ideally, the supplement should be taken three months before conception and continue until the 12th week of pregnancy.

Given around half of pregnancies are unplanned, this would mean an even bolder public health policy, such as the proposition to fortify the nation’s bread, as suggested by the UK Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition last December.

At the time, the Scottish Government urged UK ministers to push for the move in order to agree a uniform approach across the UK, but in this new era of baby boxes, could it be time for Scotland to lead on folic acid too?

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