Folic Acid During Pregnancy – Why Is It Important? Folic Acid, also known as “Folate”, is a form of Vitamin B9, a water-soluble vitamin – which means the body does not store them. Folic acid is needed for appropriate development of the human body. It aids in the production of body’s genetic material and is involved in numerous other bodily functions. It is critical for the rapid growth of cells and tissues such as in infancy, adolescence, and pregnancy. Folic acid also helps iron work properly in the body and it works with Vitamin B12 to make red blood cells.
When should you start taking Folic Acid?
If you’re pregnant or might become pregnant, it’s important to get enough folic acid. Gynecologists highly recommend that you start taking folic acid supplements every day for at least 1 month before you become pregnant. Better if you start 3 months in advance. If you find you are pregnant and have not been taking folic acid, you should start now to help prevent any neural defects in the first three months of pregnancy.
Why before pregnancy?
Doctors say only about 50% of pregnancies are planned. Birth defects occur within the first 3-4 weeks of pregnancy. Neural tube is formed at a very early stage of foetus development and may occur way before you even know you are pregnant. Taking a prenatal vitamin with folic acid before and during pregnancy can help prevent birth defects of your baby’s brain and spinal cord by 50% to 70%.
So, it’s important to have folate in your system during those early stages, first 12 weeks of pregnancy, when your baby’s brain and spinal cord are developing. Some studies show that taking prenatal folic acid supplements at the time of conception is associated with a lower risk of “Autism” as well.
All women of child bearing age should get enough folic acid – not just those who are planning to become pregnant. Its better you start taking folic before you start trying to conceive.
How does it work?
Folic acid helps prevent neural tube defects (NTDs). Your baby’s spine and brain (in fact the nervous system), develop from the neural tube, a part of the embryo. When there is an inadequate quantity of folic acid in your body, your baby’s neural tube may not close correctly and he/she could develop neural tube defects. These include:
- Spina bifida: Incomplete development of the spinal cord or vertebrae.
- Anencephaly: Incomplete development of the brain.
Some research suggests that folic acid may help lower baby’s risk of other defects as well, such as:
- Cleft lip and palate
- Congenital heart defects
Also, Folic acid can prevent –
- Poor growth in the womb
- Premature birth
- Low birth weight
When taken before and during pregnancy, it may also reduce your risk of preeclampsia, a serious blood pressure disorder that affects about 5 percent of pregnant women. Research shows that the risk of severe language delay in children at age 3 years could be reduced by taking folic acid supplements in early pregnancy. Low folate levels in the pregnant mommy during pregnancy is linked with a higher risk of emotional quotient in the baby.
How Much Folic Acid Should You Take?
Here’s how much folic acid is recommended each day in terms of pregnancy:
- Pre-pregnancy: 400 micrograms (mcg)
- 1st trimester (Week 1 through week 12) of pregnancy: 400 mcg
- 2nd & 3rd triemster: 600 mcg
- While breastfeeding: 500 mcg
If you have started taking your own prenatal vitamin, you should consult your OB once you’re pregnant to make sure it has the recommended amounts of the vitamins you need, including folic acid. Prenatal vitamins come in different combinations, some may have less or more of vitamins and minerals you need. Each woman may need different vitamin or mineral based on her health.
Other Benefits of Folic Acid
Your body needs this folate, to make normal RBC’s (red blood cells) and prevent anaemia. Folic acid is essential to produce DNA (carries genetic information) which is a basic building block of human body & rapid cell growth of the placenta and the brain functioning of your developing baby.
Natural Sources of Folic Acid
Dark green vegetables are good sources of folic acid. Overcooking GLV’s can cause folic acid content to drop considerably.
If you eat foods rich in folate, consider them a complement to your supplement. The foods that can help you obtain your recommended amount of folic acid are:
- Kidney Beans, peas
- Nuts – groundnuts, almonds
- Sunflower seeds
- Dark green vegetables such as broccoli, spinach, kale
- Citrus fruit and juice
- Fruits such as bananas, melons, and lemons
- Okra and the slimy vegetable is rich in folate. It also cleanses the entire digestive tract of toxic build-up. Half a cup of cooked okra will give you approximately 103 mcg of folic acid.
This article is a guide on the importance of folic acid and why you need it. If you are planning a family, do not wait to miss your periods. It’s always better to talk to your OB/gynec about how much folic acid and vitamins to intake during your pregnancy.