Once you’ve tested positive for pregnancy, your obstetrician prescribes a list of vitamin and mineral supplements to be taken during the next nine months. In this list is included the name folic acid. Not only this, a woman trying to conceive is often advised to increase her intake of Folic acid.
We pop in the pills in their prescribed dosage without bothering to probe into their benefits. It may not make much of a difference to others, but knowing the benefits of the vitamin supplements she consumes is of great importance to a pregnant woman. A deficiency of any of the pregnancy vitamins could negatively impact the health and growth of the baby.
This article puts forth the various benefits of folic acid, particularly for women thinking about pregnancy.
What is Folic acid?
Folic Acid is a B-group Vitamin. It is vitamin B9. The terms folic acid and folate are not different; they are used interchangeably to refer to the same vitamin. The only difference is Folate is the dietary form of Vitamin B9 while folic acid is the form found in vitamin supplements.
Folic Acid: Its role in pregnancy
The body needs folic acid right from preconception to after childbirth. Folic acid helps prevent the development of serious neural tube defects in the growing fetus.
The first trimester of pregnancy is the most crucial and fragile stage during the entire nine months. The development of the baby’s brain and skull takes place in the first four weeks after conception. The neural tube develops into the baby’s brain and spinal cord. Thus, it is recommended that a woman should take 400 micrograms of folic acid starting a month or two before trying to conceive.
In the absence of folic acid, the baby may develop major neural tube defects. It includes:
- Anencephaly: It is the incomplete development of the baby’s brain. In this case children have a very short life span.
- Spina Bifida: It is the incomplete development of the baby’s spinal cord or vertebrate. Spina bifida could result in permanent disability.
- Encephalocele: In this condition there is a protrusion of the brain tissue from an opening in the skull.
Selected studies also state that getting the right amounts of folic acid during pregnancy can reduce the risk of premature birth, low birth weight, cleft lip and congenital heart defects. However, it is till being studied.
Folic Acid plays an important role in the formation of the DNA structure in the body. This means it is needed for proper cell growth and tissue development. It is also responsible for the formation of red blood cells.
Food Sources of Folic Acid
Green Leafy vegetables are the richest sources of folic acid. It is found in kale, broccoli, collard and spinach. You can increase your intake of Folic acid by consuming legumes such as lentils, peas, kidney beans, garbanzo beans, navy beans. Folic acid is also found in large proportions in fortified foods such as cereals, pasta and whole grain breads. You can also have orange juice.
Unless a woman is trying to conceive, it is not always possible to tell the right time to start taking folic acid. A large percentage of pregnancies are unplanned. Therefore, doctors recommend that women should start taking folic acid once they reach the child bearing age.
When trying to conceive and during the first three months of pregnancy the recommended dosage is 400 mcg or 0.4 milligrams/day. Following the first three months till childbirth, you should step up the intake to 600mcg or 0.6 milligrams/day. Post childbirth and when breastfeeding, the intake should be reduced to 500mcg or 0.5 milligrams/day. The dosage of folic acid should not be more than 1000mcg per day. Doctors may recommend a higher dose of folic acid if you have a past history of a child born with neural tube defects.
You can obtain folic acid from food. But during pregnancy you require a higher level. Thus, one will have to take folic acid supplements in addition to folic acid food sources.
So, get enough of folic acid every day and protect your baby from serious birth defects.