Folic acid is also known as folate-which is Vitamin B9. In recent years the medical profession has stressed the importance of getting enough folic acid during pregnancy. This vitamin is needed to prevent serious medical conditions in a growing fetus. It is also important for women to get a sufficient amount even before they become pregnant.
Folic acid and pregnancy are related in several ways. Women should get sufficient folic acid during a pregnancy and even before they become pregnant. It is advised that all women of childbearing age get enough folic acid to avoid folic acid deficiency in case they do become pregnant. Defects caused by insufficient folic acid occur before most women are aware they are pregnant; usually in the first 28 days of a pregnancy. For women who are planning a pregnancy it is recommended they begin taking supplemental folic acid two to three months before they plan to conceive as mentioned in the tips for getting pregnant post for both fertility reasons and to make sure you have enough once the fetus appears.
Folic acid deficiency can result in extremely serious medical conditions in a growing fetus known as neural tube defects. These defects include spina bifida, a condition that keeps the spinal cord and column from completely closing. Encephalocele is a defect when the brain tissue protrudes through an abnormal opening in the baby’s skull. Anencephaly is another neural tube defect in which the brain is severely underdeveloped.
Women who have sufficient folic acid in their systems are two to three times more likely to deliver full term infants with good birth weight. Taking folic acid during pregnancy provides the extra blood supply needed for pregnant women. Getting enough of this vitamin also supports the growth of the placenta and fetus. One of the folic acid benefits is that it has a major role in combating neural tube defects. Several studies have shown that the risk for these defects is reduced by as much as 70 percent. In addition, it has been proven to reduce the risk of the fetus developing a heart defect and cleft palate.
According to most health professionals, 400 mg of folic acid per day is needed for women. As mentionned, folic acid is one of the best prenatal vitamins and pregnant women should get 600mg of folic acid in their diet each day. Natural sources of folic acid are found in citrus fruits like oranges, lemons and limes. Green leafy vegetables such as spinach and chard are also full of folic acid. Many brands of cereal, beans, rice and pastas are fortified with a synthetic form of Vitamin B9 and other essential vitamins. Eating these foods provides the mother with the folic acid in pregnancy needed for a healthy infant.
Many doctors recommend a vitamin supplement containing folic acid for women who are not getting enough in their diet. Taking these supplements should be closely monitored by a physician who can advise the correct amount based on the health history and medications the mother may be taking.
There are many serious and sometimes fatal consequences that insufficient folate can have on both a mother and her child. The good news is that many of these can be prevented with proper medical advice. Women of childbearing age should talk to their doctor about folic acid pregnancy as it relates to their individual situation.
Finally, if you are looking for other important prenatal vitamins you might want to look at this post on fish oil during pregnancy.