Pregnant woman holds whiteboard with text message - FOLIC ACID. Pregnancy parenthood preparation and expectation concept. Close-up copy space indoors.

Pregnant women who continue to take folic acid supplements throughout pregnancy may help boost their child’s psychological development, particularly within the realms of emotional intelligence and resilience, according to a new small study presented at the Annual Conference of the British Psychological Society in Brighton.

In fact, the level of folic acid in the mother’s blood near the end of her pregnancy was found to be a good predictor of these positive emotional traits in her child at seven years of age.

Currently, pregnant women are advised to take folic acid supplements (synthetic form of vitamin B9, also known as folate) during the first trimester to help prevent neural tube defects (NTDs) — serious birth defects of the spinal cord (such as spina bifida) and the brain (such as anencephaly). Other research has also shown a link between taking folate in early pregnancy to lower the risk of autism spectrum disorders (ASD).

“There is evidence that folic acid supplements taken during the first three months of pregnancy can have beneficial effects on children’s brain development,” said study leader Professor Tony Cassidy at Ulster University in the U.K. “We wanted to investigate whether continued supplementation throughout pregnancy had any additional effects.”

The study involved approximately 40 pregnant women — slightly more than half of the participants had taken a folic acid supplement throughout their entire pregnancy while the others took the supplement during the first three months only. When the children were seven years old, the researchers asked the mothers to answer questions about their child’s personality, including levels of resilience, relationships with others, and how they express their emotions.

Analysis showed that children whose mothers took the supplement throughout their entire pregnancy exhibited higher levels of emotional intelligence and resilience. In addition, the level of folic acid in the mother’s blood towards the end of pregnancy was a good indicator of their children’s resilience and emotional intelligence.

“Most expectant mothers know that taking folic acid supplements in the first three months of pregnancy is important for the baby’s spinal development. Our study shows that there are potential psychological benefits for the child if supplements are taken throughout the pregnancy,” said Cassidy.

Folate can also be obtained from several food sources such as dark leafy greens (spinach, collard, or turnip greens), asparagus, broccoli, Brussel sprouts, okra, avocado, citrus fruits, papaya, lentils, dried beans, peas, and nuts.

Source: British Psychological Society