Pregnancy and Folic Acid
Nutrition is paramount in pregnancy. Mom can only have a healthy baby if she is healthy. To that end, folic acid is critical before and after conception. According to the National Library of Medicine, sources of folic acid include dark green leafy vegetables, dried beans and peas, as well as citrus fruits and juices.
Folic acid, also known as Vitamin B9 or folate, aids in the production of red blood cells. It is also believed to help prevent serious ailments such as cardiovascular disease and cancer. But folic acid also plays an important role in the development of a fetus. Getting adequate folic acid for at least a month before conception, and continuing to take it at least 3 months into pregnancy, will greatly reduce your baby’s risk of having a neural tube defect.
The neural tube is the part of a growing fetus that becomes the brain and spinal cord. This transformation takes place during the first few weeks of pregnancy. If the neural tube does not close as it should, it causes a serious problem called a neural tube defect. This can manifest itself in a number of different ways, including but not limited to the following:
Spina bifida – This occurs when the spinal cord and its vertebrae do not close completely. Mild cases cause no health problems, while more severe cases can cause a number of other problems, including paralysis. Many of these defects occur during the first 28 days of pregnancy – usually before a woman even knows she’s pregnant.
Death – Some babies with neural tube defects die in utero.
Anencephaly – This is a term for a severely underdeveloped brain.
Encephalocele – Babies with encephalocele have an opening in the skull from which brain tissue protrudes.
In general, women should make sure they’re getting enough folic acid even if they’re not trying to get pregnant. A deficiency in folic acid may cause gray hair, diarrhea, mouth ulcers, poor growth, and/or swollen tongue.
Many breads and cereals are also fortified with folic acid; however, at least some of your folic acid should come from fresh vegetables. Some foods that are high in folic acid include asparagus, spinach, peanuts, romaine lettuce, and broccoli.
If there is any chance that you might get pregnant, it is important to take a folic acid supplement each day. After conception, you will need to start taking prenatal vitamins as soon as possible. Your doctor may even decide that you should take a folic acid supplement in addition to your prenatal vitamins.
Getting sufficient folic acid is a critical part of your prenatal care, and it should start before conception. This basic step can help prevent devastating birth defects, and could potentially even save your child’s life.