Do you know that folic acid is a pregnancy superhero! Are you aware of the fact that folic acid is one of the most important baby-making nutrients? Do you know how much folic acid you need to take during pregnancy? How to consume folic acid and get it into your daily diet? It is beneficial for both you and the baby.
Taking a prenatal vitamin of about 400 micrograms (mcg) of folic acid before and during pregnancy is very helpful. It can help prevent the birth defects of your baby’s brain and spinal cord. You need to take it every day and go ahead and have a bowl of fortified cereal, too.
Healthy nutrition is important during pregnancy, which is why expecting moms strive to get lots of veggies, fruit, whole grains, cereals and lean protein into their diets. In addition, to these, you must add folic acid to your list of prenatal vitamins. Vitamins and minerals are very important as they become critical when it comes to growing a healthy baby.
Here is more about folic acid and why it is important during pregnancy.
What Is Folic Acid?
Folic acid is a man-made form of a B vitamin (B9), commonly called folate. Or in other words, it is the synthetic version of folate. Folate is a B vitamin that occurs only in certain fruits, vegetables and nuts. It is primarily found in dark green vegetables like spinach and broccoli, legumes such as beans and peas, and enriched grains.
It is true that folic acid is found in vitamins and fortified foods like pasta, bread and cereals. But the natural version is always preferred. This nutrient helps your body to break down, use and create new proteins. Proteins, as you know, are the building block of your cells. It also plays a vital role in DNA creation and the formation of red blood cells.
Having a healthy baby means making sure you are healthy too. Hence, one of the most important things you can do to try to prevent serious birth defects in your baby. This could be done by getting enough folic acid every day – especially before conception and during early pregnancy.
Folate plays a crucial role in the production of red blood cells. It also helps your baby’s neural tube develop into their spinal cord and brain. The best food sources of folic acid are fortified cereals. You can find folate naturally in dark green vegetables and citrus fruits.
Folic Acid for Pregnancy – Why is it Important?
In the first few weeks of your pregnancy, folic acid helps the embryonic neural tube to close. This tube is the precursor to your baby’s brain and spinal cord. The neural tube develops in the embryo between the 4th and 6th week and then closes. Meaning the neural tube is the embryonic structure that later becomes the brain, skull, spine and spinal cord of your baby. This also helps in the formation of your baby’s heart and circulatory system. In addition, it also helps lower the chance of your baby having any birth defects.
You need to understand that folic acid is water-soluble, and your body is not able to store any excess amount. Instead, it gets passed through your urine. Therefore, you need to regularly incorporate enough folic acid into your diet to avoid a deficiency, especially when you are pregnant. Since most birth defects in a child develop in the first few weeks of pregnancy, it becomes all the more important to get enough folic acid as early on as possible.
What are the Benefits of Folic Acid?
There are lots and lots of benefits of folic acid. Research has shown that when this nutrient is started in the months preceding pregnancy, it can have important health benefits for expecting women and their babies.
These reduce the risk of many of these complications:
Research has shown that a folic acid deficiency in some women could lead to trouble getting or staying pregnant. Miscarriage can occur in any pregnancy. But early consumption of folic acid can reduce its chances.
2 Neural tube defects.
Three of the common birth defects that are linked to the intake of insufficient folic acid are spina bifida and spinal malformation. Anencephaly, a type of brain damage, is also a birth defect but is less common. Chiari malformation is another such disorder that causes the brain tissue to extend into the spinal canal.
3 Congenital heart defects.
These conditions affect more than 40,000 babies a year. The symptoms include a hole in the heart’s wall, too-narrow valves or blood vessels that are incorrectly formed. The use of folic acid before and during pregnancy drastically reduces the chance that your offspring will be born with a congenital heart defect. Hence you positively need to take folic acid supplements during this stage.
4 Gestational diabetes.
This type of pregnancy-related diabetes can, at times, be treated with dietary changes, vigorous exercise and close monitoring. Research has shown that women who regularly take up to 400 mcg of folic acid regularly before getting pregnant have 22% fewer chances of developing gestational diabetes. With the low intake of folic acid, gestational diabetes is noticeable in the second or third semester of pregnancy.
5 Preterm labor.
Research has shown that a diet that is rich in folic acid may help prevent labor before 37 weeks. Folic acid deficiency can increase preterm birth and also increase your chances of complicated deliveries by 12%. Hence you should strive to consciously include folic acid in your diet or else take it as a supplement.
6 Cleft lip and palate.
Folic acid might help prevent this mouth defect. It is seen in newborns – in which the lip has an opening in it and does not form correctly. Folic acid is a vitamin, and it can prevent the occurrence of this disorder.
Folic Acid for Pregnancy – How Much Do You Need to Take?
Experts recommend that all women who could become pregnant or who are actively planning a family should consume at least 0.4 to 0.8 mg of folic acid in a daily supplement.
You also need to note that preconception folic acid supplementation is even more important than prenatal folic acid supplementation. So you should discuss with your doctor your nutritional needs. You should discuss even before you start trying to conceive. Ideally, a pregnant woman’s daily dose of folic acid should be 600 mcg from all sources. This includes prenatal vitamins and foods.
Even in the scenario where you are not planning to become pregnant right away, do not wait to start taking a prenatal vitamin that contains folic acid. As more than half of all pregnancies are unplanned, it is smart to start taking this important nutrient in case you suddenly realize you have conceived. Its deficiency could lead to major birth defects related to the brain and spine. And this can happen in the first few weeks of pregnancy, which is often before you know that you are expecting.
Folic Acid for Pregnancy – When Should You Start to Take?
Do you know that birth defects occur within the first 3 to 4 weeks of pregnancy? So it is important to have folate in your system during these early stages when your baby’s spinal cord and brain are developing. Birth defects can cause problems in overall health, how the body develops.
If you talked to your doctor while you were trying to conceive, they would probably recommend taking prenatal vitamins with folic acid. One study showed that women who took folic acid for at least a year before getting pregnant reduced their chances of delivering early by more than 50%. Hence it is recommended that you start taking folic acid every day for at least a couple of months before you become pregnant. And you should take it every day while you have early signs of pregnancy.
However, your doctor will also recommend that you should take folic acid every day when you are at your childbearing age. So start taking it as early as you can. All prenatal vitamins are not the same for everyone, and some might have less or more of the vitamins and minerals you need.
What are the Best Folic Acid Foods?
Remember that your daily prenatal vitamin is equivalent to a nutritional backup plan during pregnancy. It is very handy, especially on days when you feel too sick to eat. But what you need to understand is that vitamin or supplement can not replace a healthy diet. It is vital to eat plenty of folate-rich veggies when you are expecting. Moreover, they are full of many other important baby-making nutrients like calcium, fiber, vitamin A and vitamin C.
In addition, if you are breastfeeding, experts recommend you should take a basic daily women’s multivitamin that contains 100 percent of all the nutrients, including folic acid. You can choose to either continue taking your prenatal vitamin suggested by your doctor or a supplement specifically designed for breastfeeding moms.
Some of the best food sources of folate to include in your diet:
- Dark leafy green vegetables: 263 mcg in one cup cooked spinach
- Broccoli: 168 mcg in one cup chopped and cooked
- Avocado: 120 mcg in one cup sliced
- Legumes: 250 mcg in one cup beans or lentils
- Asparagus: 268 mcg in one cup
- Beets: 136 mcg in one cup
- Oranges: 35 mcg in 3/4 cup
- Foods fortified with folic acid – whole-grain cereal, bread, pasta and rice.
Just take note that taking your folic acid-rich daily prenatal vitamin along with a healthy diet – is an excellent way to start off your new baby’s life.