Associations of maternal folic acid supplementation and folate concentrations during pregnancy with foetal and child head growth: the Generation R Study

J Steenweg-de Graaff, Sabine Roza, Aletta Walstra, Hanan El Marroun, Eric Steegers, Vincent Jaddoe, Bert Hofman, Frank Verhulst, Henning Tiemeier, Tonya White*

*Corresponding author for this work

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Folic acid supplementation during pregnancy has been associated with a reduced risk of common neurodevelopmental delays in the offspring. However, it is unclear whether low folate status has effects on the developing brain. We evaluated the associations of maternal folic acid supplementation and folate concentrations during pregnancy with repeatedly measured prenatal and postnatal head circumference in the offspring.


Within a population-based prospective cohort, we measured maternal plasma folate concentrations at approximately 13 weeks of gestation (90 % range 10.5–17.2) and assessed folic acid supplementation by questionnaire (2001–2005). Up to 11 repeated measures of head circumference were obtained during foetal life (20 and 30 weeks of gestation) and childhood (between birth and age 6 years) in 5866 children (2002–2012).


In unadjusted models, foetal head growth was 0.006 SD (95 % CI 0.003; 0.009, P < 0.001) faster per week per 1-SD higher maternal folate concentration. After adjustment for confounders, this association was attenuated to 0.004 SD per week (95 % CI 0.000; 0.007, P = 0.02; estimated absolute difference at birth of 2.7 mm). The association was independent of overall foetal growth. No associations were found between maternal folate concentrations and child postnatal head growth. Preconceptional start of folic acid supplementation was associated with larger prenatal head size, but not with prenatal or postnatal head growth.


Our results suggest an independent, modest association between maternal folate concentrations in early pregnancy and foetal head growth. More research is needed to identify whether specific brain regions are affected and whether effects of folate on foetal head growth influence children’s long-term functioning.
Original languageUndefined/Unknown
Pages (from-to)65-75
Number of pages11
JournalEuropean Journal of Nutrition
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 26 Oct 2015

Research programs

  • EMC MGC-02-52-01-A
  • EMC MM-04-54-08-A
  • EMC NIHES-03-30-02

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