Importance of Folic Acid during Pregnancy
If you’re here we’re assuming that you’re either trying or expecting a baby. You must have heard about the importance of proteins, vitamins, minerals, iron and calcium in the pregnancy diet. Have you heard about folic acid? If not, we are here to educate you about the same. It is the underdog no one is talking about.
What Is Folic Acid?
Folic acid is an artificial form of vitamin B called folate. Folate plays a crucial part in the making of red blood cells and benefits your baby’s neural tube development into the brain and spinal cord. Fortified cereals are the best food sources of it. Folate is naturally found in citrus fruits and dark green vegetables.
What are the health benefits of taking folic acid during pregnancy?
The neural tube should normally develop into the spinal cord and brain by a month of conception but a lot of babies are born with neural tube defects every year.
Neural tube not closing properly leads to neural tube defects. Anencephaly is a disorder in which the brain doesn’t grow properly. Babies who are born with anencephaly cannot survive. Babies who are born with encephalocele or spina bifida may face many surgeries, paralysis, and long-term disability.
Spina bifida can cause a varied range of problems for your baby, including:
- difficulties with movement
- bladder and bowel complications
- learning problems.
Encephalocele is a condition in which brain tissues bulge out to the skin through an opening of the skull. All of these disorders occur during the initial 28 days of pregnancy — typically before a woman even realizes that she’s pregnant.
It’s not clear till date as to why it has such a reflective effect on the prevention of neural tube defects. But studies do show that it’s essential for the development of DNA. As a result of which it plays a major role in cell development and growth, as well as tissue formation. Getting adequate folic acid could guard your baby against neural tube defects by at least 50%.
According to sources, taking folic acid supplements by the pregnant women majorly reduces the risk of congenital heart defects which are detected in 8 out of 1000 cases in the United States every year.
Congenital heart defects basically happen when the heart or blood vessels don’t develop ordinarily before birth. They may affect the interior chambers of the heart, the heart valves, or the arteries and veins of the heart.
Some studies also show that folic acid supplementation in early pregnancy may help in preventing cleft lip and cleft palate too. Both of these birth defects arise if parts of the lip and mouth don’t fuse together normally during the initial 6 to 10 weeks of pregnancy. Correction of this condition usually require one or more surgeries.
When taken before and during pregnancy, folic acid may also protect your baby against:
- Premature birth
- Low birth weight
- Poor development in the womb
It is also said to reduce your risk of:
- Pregnancy complications
- Heart disease
- Alzheimer’s disease
Folic acid before pregnancy
If you’re planning for a baby, it’s essential that you take folic acid tablets for two to three months before you expect. This lets it build up in your body to a good level. This way it gives the maximum protection to your future baby to counter neural tube defects, such as spina bifida.
Women usually get pregnant within a month of trying. So it is perfect to start taking folic acid tablets or supplementation two months before you stop using contraception. Those who have already stopped contraception, they may start taking it from now on until week 12 of pregnancy.
You can also try to eat more foods that contain folate, which is the natural form of folic acid. Though, even a healthy diet does not have sufficient folic acid required for pregnancy. That is why taking the tablets is very essential.
You might even end up taking folic acid tablets for more than two to three months. That is absolutely OK and not detrimental.
Having the right level of folic acid in the body before pregnancy reduces the risk of neural tube defects in baby up to 70%.
Where do I get folic acid?
They are found in lots of pre-pregnancy vitamins. These can sometimes be expensive.
You can also try to eat foods containing folate. These include:
- brussels sprouts
- fortified breakfast cereals.
Eating folate-rich foods alone will not be sufficient for the baby. It is important to take tablets as well for the best protection.
How much should I take?
Most of the pregnant women are recommended to take a 400mcg supplement per day. These are available in most of the pharmacies and supermarkets.
You can also get it in some pregnancy multivitamin tablets. Just do make sure that the tablet does not comprise vitamin A. High doses of vitamin A can lead to developmental complications in the first three months of pregnancy.
Some studies show that the proportion of women taking folic acid supplements is deteriorating, with just one-third of women taking folic acid supplementation before pregnancy. It is as important as other nutrients during pregnancy. Don’t sleep over it and consult your gynaecologist regarding folic acid. Stay home, Stay safe! Happy quarantine!