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Lifelong health effects of pregnancy

Mark Greener presents recent studies exploring good health practice during pregnancy

A zygote’s transformation into trillions of cells in hundreds of anatomically and functionally distinct tissues in a new-born just nine months later remains, arguably, the most remarkable phenomenon in all biology.

Scientists now have an unprecedented understanding of the signalling pathways, genetic sequences and cellular events that contribute to embryogenesis – although many of the details remain poorly resolved.

In addition, we are gaining an expanding appreciation of the multitude of ways in which external factors affect embryogenesis. Low folate levels, for example, increase the risk of neural tube defects (NTD), such as spina bifida and anencephaly. As a result, the Department of Health (DH) recommends that women should take 400micrograms folic acid daily as a supplement from before conception until the 12th week of pregnancy. In 2013, however, the British Medical Association noted that the UK has the highest rate of NTD in Europe: 0.8 to 1.5 per 1000 births.1

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