IMPORTANCE OF FOLIC ACID DURING PREGNANCY
Every pregnant mother desires to have a healthy baby. To achieve this, it is imperative to eat a healthy and well-balanceddiet every day. Unfortunately, even a well-balanced diet may not contain the right proportions of all the vitamins and minerals you need to ensure a healthy pregnancy. It is, therefore, necessary and important to take some supplements before conception and in the course of the pregnancy. One of such supplements is Folic Acid. It is also called folate (a natural form of folic acid found in foods) or vitamin B9.
The importance of folic acid before and during pregnancy cannot be over-emphasized. This is more so because it starts working at the very beginning of conception. A baby’s spine, vertebral column and brain develop at a very early stage of the pregnancy, usually within four weeks of conception. This means that before some women realise that they are pregnant, these vital organs are already developed. Where a mother has never taken folic acid supplements or if she has low levels offolic acid in her system, there is a higher risk of having a baby with spina bifida. In other words, folic acid helps in theprevention of neural tube defects such as spina bifida (a gap in the spinal column) and brain defects such as anencephaly (incomplete development of the brain).
Folic acid should be taken three months before conception and three months into the pregnancy. This is because folic acid is usually filtered from the blood quite quickly and during pregnancy, the filtration process is even four times its normal rate. This means that if you don’t take this supplement regularly, you can become deficient and put your baby at risk. However, if you’ve not been taking the supplements before conceiving, you should start taking it as soon as you find out that you are pregnant. It is also very safe to continue with the supplements throughout the course of your pregnancy, should you choose to.
Foods that are rich in folate include: green leafy vegetables, whole grains, pulses, baked potatoes, hard-boiled eggs, tinned salmon, yeast, oranges, bananas, walnuts, peas, soya flour, mushroom, beans and brown rice. Some breakfast cereals, breads and margarines are also fortified with folic acid.
Please note that if you are taking your own vitamins, it is advisable to take it to your doctor for a proper check to see if it has the recommended amount of folic acid you need, together with the recommended amount of other vitamins. The recommended dose of folic acid for all women of childbearing age is 400 mcg daily.
Apart from preventing spina bifida and anencephaly, some researchers suggest that folic acid might also prevent other types of birth defects such as: cleft lip, cleft palate, heart and limb defects, and urinary tract anomalies. Not having enough folic acid can also lead to anaemia. Furthermore, it works with vitamin B12 to keep your blood healthy.