Expectant mothers should maintain a healthy pregnancy in order to reduce the risk of birth defects, and one combatant to certain types of birth defects in the brain and spinal cord is folic acid. Taking folic acid in recommended doses before and during pregnancy can help prevent these birth defects, and it can be taken every day leading up to pregnancy as well. Here are some basic facts about folic acid and pregnancy, including its benefits and instructions for use.

Folic Acid Facts

Folic acid is a man-made substance and is a form of a B vitamin called folate. Folate is important for red blood cell production in the body, and it helps a baby’s neural tube to eventually develop into a brain and spinal cord. Folate is found naturally in dark green vegetables and citrus fruits, and the best source of folic acid is in fortified cereals.

What Does it Protect Against?

If there isn’t enough folic acid in the body, the baby’s neural tube might not close correctly, and neural tube defects could result. There are two primary conditions here:

  • • Spina bifida: Incomplete development of the spinal cord or vertebrae
  • • Anencephaly: Incomplete development of major parts of the brain

Most babies with anencephaly do not live long, and in many cases, spina bifida can cause permanent disablement. However, consuming enough folic acid lowers the risk of neural tube defects by at least 50 percent—and by as much as 70 percent if you’ve already had a baby with a neural tube defect.

Folic acid may also help prevent several other possible birth complications including:

  • • Cleft lip and palate
  • • Premature birth
  • • Low birth weight
  • • Miscarriage
  • • Poor growth in the womb

Folic acid has also been suggested to reduce risk of each of the following:

  • • Pregnancy complications such as preeclampsia
  • • Heart disease or stroke
  • • Certain types of cancer
  • • Alzheimer’s disease

Recommendations

The US Public Health Service and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend that all women of childbearing age consume 400 micrograms (0.4 milligrams) of folic acid per day to prevent spina bifida and anencephaly. Half of US pregnancies are unplanned, and because these birth defects occur very early after conception (within 3-4 weeks), having folic acid in the system already is important.

The CDC estimates that most of these birth defects could be prevented if this recommendation were followed by all women. Speak to your doctor for individual recommendations on folic acid consumption.

Good Sources of Folic Acid

Foods that may be beneficial for getting more folic acid in the system before or during pregnancy include:

  • • Breakfast cereals fortified with folic acid
  • • Beef liver
  • • Lentils
  • • Spinach
  • • Egg noodles
  • • Great Northern beans

If you are pregnant or thinking of becoming pregnant, your doctor can offer recommendations for folic acid intake and other precautions to limit the risk of birth defects.

Contact Revere Health OB/GYN today to schedule an appointment with one of our specialists!

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Sources:

“Folic Acid and Pregnancy.” WebMD. http://www.webmd.com/baby/folic-acid-and-pregnancy#1

“Folic Acid.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/folicacid/recommendations.html

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