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The crucial role of folic acid in pregnancy

Getting enough folic acid each and every day is one of the keys to ensuring your baby develops properly—especially before you actually conceive and during the first few months of pregnancy.

About folic acid

Folic acid is a synthetic form of folate used in supplements as well as fortified foods. It is also found in leafy green vegetables such as spinach and broccoli, along with fruit, nuts, and grains. Our body needs folate to function properly but cannot produce it on its own, so folate needs to be consumed either through diet or supplements. And for this reason, folic acid vitamins are often prescribed to pregnant women to prevent certain birth defects.

Several studies have shown that if a woman gets at least 400 micrograms of folate every day before the baby is conceived and during early pregnancy, it reduces the chances of the baby being born with a neural tube defect by up to 70%.

The most common kinds of neural tube defects include:

  • Spina bifida—the spinal cord and spinal column don’t close properly
  • Anencephaly—the brain doesn’t develop properly
  • Encephalocele—the skull has an abnormal opening and brain tissues protrude out of it

These defects develop during the first 28 days of pregnancy, before a woman may even know that she is pregnant and ensure she has enough folate in her diet.

This is the reason it’s important for women to ensure they get the folic acid they need, even if they don’t plan on becoming pregnant. Only around half of all pregnancies are planned, so if you could get pregnant then you should ensure you are getting enough folic acid.

It’s still not completely known what the connection is between folic acid and preventing neural tube defects, but what is known is folic acid is crucial to the development of DNA. Folic acid is, therefore, an important part of the growth and development of tissues and cells.

Getting enough folic acid

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that women who are of a childbearing age – particularly if they are trying to get pregnant – should consume at least 400 micrograms of folic acid each day. It’s important to get enough folic acid before conceiving and for at least the first three months of pregnancy to reduce the chances of the fetus developing a neural tube defect.

So, what’s the secret to avoiding folic acid deficiency and getting enough of the stuff? The U.S Food and Drug Administration (FDA) mandated back in 1998 that folic acid should be added to enrich grain products. So one way to boost your intake is to consume bread, cereals, pasta, and rice that have all of the folic acid you need.

Getting plenty of fortified foods doesn’t cut it for every woman, though. In order to consume the daily recommended amount, you might need to take vitamin supplements. When you are pregnant, you need even more of the essential nutrients than before you were pregnant.

While you can’t replace your diet with these prenatal vitamins, you can give your body— and baby–a boost of necessary minerals and vitamins. It’s recommended by some health care providers that you continue taking folate supplements on top of the prenatal vitamins to avoid folic acid deficiency symptoms. Also, opting for L-Methylfolate supplements is considered as one of the best solutions if you’re suffering from folic acid deficiency.

Consult your doctor about your personal daily folic acid intake, and ask them if they feel you should be taking a supplement—whether prescription or over the counter—for folic acid deficiency.

You should also consult with your doctor if you’ve had a pregnancy that involved neural tube defects before. They could recommend that you take in more folate – even before pregnancy – to reduce the risk of this happening again. Keep a watchful eye out for folic acid deficiency symptoms and make sure you’re getting enough of this important B vitamin.


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