In an ideal world both women and men would prepare for the woman’s pregnancy by enjoying a healthy lifestyle that includes all recommended nutrients and balanced exercise. The woman should be taking a folic acid supplement. In fact, according to one of the Merrion Fetal Health magazines on the subject, it is recommended for all women of a childbearing age to take folic acid each day even when not hoping to become pregnant.
What is folic acid and why is it important?
Folic acid is a B Vitamin that is one of the most essential supplements recommended to pregnant women. Folic acid has several very important benefits for both the Mother-to-be and her developing fetus. Folic acid helps to prevent congenital disabilities that can affect the baby’s brain and spinal cord. Only three weeks after a baby has been conceived is when the neural tube starts to form.
One study showed that women had their daily dose of folic acid for one year prior to pregnancy decreased the chances of pre-term delivery by 50% plus. Additionally we need folic acid in order to prevent a particular type of anaemia and there is research that suggests that it can also help in the reduction of pre-eclampsia developing.
Here are some interesting facts:
- At least 70% of neural tube defects could be avoided if pregnant women took folic acid supplements during pregnancy. Neural tube defects (NTD)are disorders that affect the brain, and spinal cord mostly associated with newborns.
- A woman who has had a pregnancy affected by NTD has a possibility of recurrence. Folic acid prevents NTDs very early on in the pregnancy.
- Folic acid is used by the body to develop DNA. DNA is necessary for the development of tissues and organs in a baby’s body.
What are the benefits of folic acid for pregnancy?
Production of red blood cells
The components of folic acid are required for the making of red blood cells which is also very important, especially for women who are at risk of anemia during pregnancy. Folic acid ensures that your red blood cell count is at optimum as you also take other supplements to maintain the levels of iron in the blood.
Prevention of congenital disabilities
Lack of folic acid can lead to neural and brain defects, as stated in the fact list. These include congenital disabilities like anencephaly, cleft lip and palate and Spinal Bifida. A fetus can also develop heart complications. During the development of the brain in the womb, it can create an opening in the spinal cord that makes a neural tube. The neural tube is usually expected to close in the third week of pregnancy. If this does not happen, NTDs are a possibility. Folic acid helps in the healthy development of the brain.
Absorption of other vitamins
If the body has a folic acid deficiency, the white blood cell count will decrease. If there is no folic acid in the body, there will be most likely a lack of vitamin B12 and iron as well. This can trigger some bowel and stomach ailments.
An expectant mother requires a slightly higher intake of folic acid because body cells multiply a lot faster during pregnancy. This can deplete the folic acid reserve of a mother significantly because of the growing foetus. This can easily lead to maternal anemia which can be problematic during childbirth.
Prevention of premature births and miscarriages
Consumption of folic acid prevents miscarriages and premature births. This is because consumption of folic acid will lead to the healthy development of the baby hence preventing miscarriage and issues such as low birth weight.
Promotes the healthy development of the foetus
A baby’s neural development is very important, especially while in the womb. Folic acid helps in ensuring the development of the baby. Folic acid provides the full development of the baby’s central nervous system. Babies born with neural complications can be disabled for life.
Hormones rise and fall dramatically during pregnancy. This can often lead to postpartum depression after the birth of the baby. Cray mood swings are also common during pregnancy and even after delivery. Researches that have been carried out have shown that the lack of folic acid is to some extent, the reason for depression. Sufficient levels of folic acid in the body have been seen to help cure depression.
Keeps pregnancy-related complications away
Pregnancy is a joy to many, but in some instances, it can be complicated. Complications like heart disease, preeclampsia, cancers, stroke and Alzheimer’s disease are sometimes common. Having the right amount of folic acid in your body can help keep these complications away.
How Much Folic Acid Should A Pregnant Woman Take?
It is recommended that an expectant mother should take a daily dosage of 400mg of folic acid. However, one should visit a physician for proper prescription. A prescription of over 1mg is not recommended.
The dosage can be higher depending on the trimester.
One should start taking folic acid daily at least a month before pregnancy. Congenital disabilities are said to happen during the early stages of pregnancy between 3-4 weeks. It is, therefore, advisable that one takes folic acid to prevent these foetal complications.
Dietary Sources of Folic Acid
Besides taking a folic acid supplement, intake of a healthy and balanced diet can inject some folic acid into your body. Some of the common sources of folic acid include:
- Egg noodles
- Breakfast cereals
Supplementing with folic acid supplements is necessary as it is difficult to get all the folic acid one needs in their food.
Why a Higher Dose may be needed
Women whose babies have a higher chance of developing NTDs are usually advised to take a higher dose during the first trimester. This population includes:
- if you or your baby’s biological father have a neural tube defect
- You previously had a pregnancy which was affected by a neural tube defect.
- Your child’s biological father’s family have a history of neural tube defects
- You suffer from diabetes
- You are taking anti-epilepsy meds
If any of the above applies to you, you should visit your physician for advice.
The health of the growing baby is of paramount importance during pregnancy. Folic acid is a pregnancy superhero. Besides taking a daily dose of folic acid, you should take other recommended supplements as well for the overall health of the baby.
It is also important to note that one should continue their folic acid intake after the baby is born. The baby will benefit from the supplements during breastfeeding post-baby.