By Dr. Maria Simbra

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — Danesha Smith is 11 weeks pregnant with her second child.

“I feel great,” she said. “A lot of energy, it’s just been a wonderful experience.”

She takes a prenatal multi-vitamin with folic acid.

A large new study in the “Journal of the American Medical Association” looked at 85,000 children in Norway. Researchers found mothers who took folic acid supplements before they conceived and during the first two months of their pregnancy lowered their chances of having a child with autism 39 percent.

Folic acid is already known to reduce the risk of brain and spine birth defects — also called neural tube defects — like spina bifida.

“It is not in any way dangerous to the patient,” Dr. Maria Costantini-Ferrando of Reproductive Medicine Associates of New Jersey said. “It is not costly. It is part of the standard of care, regardless, so we would definitely recommend it.”

“The next step was to put it in our bread and flour so that everybody got it whether they wanted it or not, because of the advantage and the ability to reduce the number of neural tube defects,” AGH OBGYN Dr. Ron Thomas says about the history of this supplement.

Doctors recommend pregnant women, or women who are trying to become pregnant, take 400 micrograms of folic acid a day, the amount typically found in a prenatal multivitamin.

“If you can plan a pregnancy just like you plan everything else in life, things that are planned, by and large, turn out better,” Thomas said.

Danesha has been taking folic acid supplements since she started trying to get pregnant with her first child.

“We put a lot of focus on healthiness, being healthy, taking the right vitamins, eating well,” she said.

She’s also trying to get more sleep and cut down on stress.

The study was not big enough to say whether there’s a relationship between folic acid and the risk of Asperger’s syndrome, which is on the autism spectrum and affects older children.

Children in the study were between 3 and 10 years old, so more children could be diagnosed with Asperger’s as they get older.

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