Nightly News   |  February 17, 2013

Folic Acid key to healthy pregnancy

NBC’s Robert Bazell reports that folic acid can help lead to a healthy pregnancy, even for women who take it before they become pregnant.

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>>> we're back with health news tonight, an important finding involving autism and how women may reduce the risk of their children developing it. a study in the journal of the american medical association found that expanding the use of folic acid , a commonly used vitamin, had a big impact . we get more tonight from nbc's chief science correspondent, robert bazell .

>> reporter: dr. goldwasser is an ob/gyn who counsels women how to have a healthy pregnancy. she is also pregnant and knows a nutritious diet plus folic acid is up supplements are an important part of giving her baby the best chance for a healthy body and brain. concern starts even before the pregnancy.

>> of women's health before she becomes pregnant definitely will influence the way that her pregnancy is going to progress.

>> reporter: while it is well known that folic acid can reduce the chance of certain birth defects, the latest study suggests that women who take folic acid supplements before getting pregnant may also reduce the risk of having a child with autism. the researchers followed the development of more than 85,000 children born in norway between 2002 and 2008 and tracked their progress until last year. they found that mothers who started taking folic acid supplements at least one month before getting pregnant and continuing for two months into the pregnancy had a 40% reduced chance of having a baby that later developed autism.

>> folic acids helps to make sure that the brain cells grow at the rate that they should be growing.

>> reporter: so how much of the supplement should women take? the march of dimes recommends 400 micrograms a day. experts advise that all women who think they may become pregnant should be taking folic acid continually, an important part of the effort to have the healthiest child possible. robert bazell , nbc news, new york.