Many NZ mums not getting message about boosting iodine and folic acid

19 October 2017
pregnant woman

In the first study of its kind gauging how well the Ministry of Health's advice on supplementation during pregancy is followed, researchers reveal that barely more than one-third of the Kiwi mothers surveyed report adhering fully to recommendations.

New Zealand’s Ministry of Health (MOH) rarely recommends women who are considering pregnancy, who are pregnant, or who are breastfeeding take an iodine supplement each day containing 150mcg of this trace mineral. Iodine is important for optimal foetal and infant brain development, including their IQ later in life.

The MOH also recommends that one folic acid tablet (0.8 mg) is taken daily for four weeks before conception through to 12 weeks after becoming pregnant, to help prevent neural tube defects in their babies.
 
The University of Otago's research involved a survey of more than 500 women who were pregant or had been pregnant in the past two years.  The research was published in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology.

Lead author Dr Andrew Reynolds says the women were asked what supplements they were taking and when.
 
“The responses revealed only 52 per cent of women were following the iodine recommendation, and only 38 per cent followed both the iodine and the folic acid recommendation,” Dr Reynolds says.
 
So what does this mean? Associate Professor Sheila Skeaff, Dr Reynold’s colleague and co-author on the paper, says “although these data are from a survey that captures supplement use at one time point, we found the results very interesting”. 
 
The paper found that the majority of women (80 per cent) were accessing their iodine with a prescription from a GP or midwife. “The Ministry of Health subsidises the cost of supplements through a prescription, so it was great to see New Zealand women knew about these prescriptions, and were using them,” Associate Professor Skeaff says.
 
However, the results of the survey suggest only low numbers of women met the Ministry’s supplementation recommendations.
 
“We need to make a bigger effort to promote these recommendations and increase access to iodine and folic acid supplements – we want communities to know about these nutrients, and why they are important,” Associate Professor Skeaff says.