If you are pregnant, you can take folic acid to help prevent certain birth defects in your baby. Folic acid and folate are two forms of the same vitamin – vitamin B9. Folate is the form that occurs naturally in foods while folic acid is the man-made form added to multivitamins and fortified foods. Your body needs folic acid to make new cells including brain cells, blood cells, and the genetic materials inside the body cells – DNA and RNA.
Natural foods rich in Folate
Some of them include:
- Legumes such as beans and peas
- Leafy green vegetables
- Citrus fruits such as oranges, grapefruit, lemons, and limes
During pregnancy, you need even more folic acid because your baby’s body needs it too. Folic acid helps your baby’s brain and spinal cord develop normally. Taking folic acid can significantly reduce the risk of neural tube defects in your developing baby called an embryo at this stage. The neural tube begins as a tiny oval-shaped piece of embryonic tissue which folds into a tube at about 28 days after conception. When this tube closes properly, it continues to develop into your baby’s brain and spinal cord. If the neural tube does not close due to the lack of folic acid in your diet, your baby may have neural tube defects such as spina bifida or anencephaly.
What is Spina Bifida?
In spinal bifida, the neural tube fails to close at the bottom. As a result, the parts of the spine that enclose and protect the lower spinal cord do not completely form, allowing the cord to protrude. Children with this defect often require surgery and have permanent disabilities including leg paralysis, developmental delays, and nervous system problems.
What is Anecephaly?
In the condition called anencephaly, the neural tube fails to close at the top, preventing large parts of the brain and skull from developing completely. Babies with this defect are unable to live and usually die before birth or soon after.
Folic acid may also protect against other birth defects such as cleft lip, cleft palate, and atrial septal defect. Atrial septal defect is a condition where there is a hole between the right and left upper chambers of the heart fails to close during development.
Expert Recommendations on Folic Acid Intake
Because the neural tube develops so early in pregnancy, often before a woman knows she’s pregnant, experts recommend all women who are able to become pregnant take a daily multivitamin containing 400 micrograms of folic acid every day. During pregnancy, the need increases to 600 micrograms of folic acid each day. Experts recommend you take this multivitamin in addition to the food folate in your diet because your body does not absorb folate found naturally in food as easily as the man-made folic acid.
Care-givers will often describe even 1000 micrograms of folic acid daily to assure these minimal levels are covered. Even more may be required in women with previous miscarriages or those with deficiency of folic acid metabolizing enzyme.
A word from HealthFacts to you
Folic acid is highly important for the health of you and your growing baby. Ensure you adhere to all the medications given by your doctor during your antenatal care.
Till next time, stay informed and stay healthy!
Suggested Reading: Malnutrition in Pregnancy; Fatal Complications.