It is important that you take folic acid during pregnancy, especially during the first three months. Folic acid is a synthetic form of the B vitamin folate. It is very important for healthy fetal development. You should start taking folic acid supplements as soon as you discover you are pregnant, if you are not already taking them.
What does folic acid do?
Folic acid helps to protect your baby against central nervous system defects including:
- Spina bifida – a fault in the spinal cord development that leaves a gap in the spine
- Anencephaly – a developmental fault that means the baby is born without parts of the skull and brain. Most babies born with this condition will die shortly after birth
- Cleft lip – a split in the upper lip, the roof of the mouth, or sometimes both
- Congenital heart defects
- Limb defects
- Urinary tract anomalies
Recent research found a link between folic acid intake and the prevention of autism spectrum disorders. Not enough research has been carried out to determine the reasons for, or strength of, this link.
Taking folic acid can also protect your baby from premature birth and low birth weight.
How much folic acid should I take?
You need to take a daily supplement containing 400mcg of folic acid for the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. Women trying to conceive are also advised to take 400mcg a day.
The body cannot store folic acid, so it is important to take a supplement every day. Some prenatal vitamins will include the full 400mcg, or you may wish to take it as a stand alone supplement.
If you have a family history of neural tube defects such as spina bifida, you should speak to your healthcare provider. Some doctors may advise taking a higher dosage (up to 5mg) of folic acid each day for the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. If you have diabetes, or are currently taking anti-epileptic medication, you may also be advised to take a higher dosage of folic acid. Speak to your healthcare provider about folic acid as soon as possible.
Foods rich in folate
Folate, the natural form of the B vitamin, occurs naturally in some foods, and it is important to eat a variety of these foods each day. Folate rich foods include green leafy vegetables, chickpeas, black eyed peas and brown rice. Some cereals are fortified with folic acid. Be sure to include a variety of these foods in your diet throughout the pregnancy.
If you have only just discovered you are pregnant, and have not been taking supplements until now, do not worry. Just be sure to start taking 400mcg of folic acid each day from now until 12 weeks. To ensure you remember to take the supplement, do it at the same time each day and include it as part of your daily return. Alternatively, you could set a daily reminder on your mobile phone to make sure you remember.
Written by Fiona, proud owner of a toddler, @fiona_peacock
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a trained medical doctor. Health & Parenting Ltd disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information, which is provided to you on a general information basis only and not as a substitute for personalized medical advice. All contents copyright © Health & Parenting Ltd 2018. All rights reserved.