Taking a folic acid supplement is one of the most important things a woman can do during the early stages of her pregnancy because it can help prevent birth defects of your baby’s brain and spinal cord.
Folic Acid is a pregnancy superhero!
What is folic acid?
Folic acid is the synthetic form of folate, a type of B-vitamin also sometimes referred to as B9. Red blood cells carry oxygen to all the parts of your body. If your body does not make enough red blood cells, you can develop anemia. Anemia happens when your blood cannot carry enough oxygen to your body, which makes you pale, tired, or weak. Also, if you do not get enough folic acid, you could develop a type of anemia called folate-deficiency anemia
For pregnant women, Folate plays an important role in the production of red blood cells and plays a crucial role in the healthy development of the neural tube, brain and spinal cord of the fetus.
The best food sources of folic acid are from vitamins and fortified foods, such as bread, pasta and cereals. Folate is found naturally in foods such as leafy green vegetables, oranges, and beans.
How much folic acid do pregnant women need?
The general recommended dose for a normal, low-risk pregnancy is 400 micrograms (MCGs) a day for pregnant women. However, some women may want or need to take more. It’s a water-soluble vitamin, so there’s usually no harm in taking extra.
All women need 400 micrograms of folic acid every day. Women who can get pregnant should get 400 to 800 micrograms of folic acid from a vitamin or from food that has added folic acid, such as breakfast cereal. This is in addition to the folate you get naturally from food.
Here’s how much folic acid is recommended each day in terms of pregnancy:
- While you’re trying to conceive: 400 mcg
- For the first three months of pregnancy: 400 mcg
- For months four to nine of pregnancy: 600 mcg
- While breastfeeding: 500 mcg
Reasons, why some women may need to take higher doses of folic acid, include:
- If either parent has a medical history of neural tube defects
- If the mother already has a child with a neural tube defect
- If the mother is on certain medications, such as anticonvulsants
- If the mother has diabetes
- If the mother has impaired gastrointestinal absorption, such as with Celiac disease
When Should I Start Taking Folic Acid?
Ideally, a woman should be taking folic acid about a month prior to conception and at least through the first trimester of pregnancy. Birth defects occur within the first 3-4 weeks of pregnancy. So it’s important to have folate in your system during those early stages when your baby’s brain and spinal cord are developing.
All women who can get pregnant need to take 400 to 800 micrograms of folic acid every. You need to take folic acid every day because it is a water-soluble B-vitamin. Water soluble means that it does not stay in the body for a long time. Your body metabolizes (uses) folic acid quickly, so your body needs folic acid each day to work properly.
If you do not get enough folic acid before and during pregnancy, your baby is at higher risk for neural tube defects. Neural tube defects are serious birth defects that affect the spine, spinal cord, or brain and may cause death.
- Spina bifida. This condition happens when an unborn baby’s spinal column does not fully close during development in the womb, leaving the spinal cord exposed. As a result, the nerves that control the legs and other organs do not work. Children with spina bifida often have lifelong disabilities. They may also need many surgeries.
- Anencephaly. This means that most or all of the brain and skull does not develop in the womb. Almost all babies with this condition die before or soon after birth.
Babies with anencephaly usually do not live long, and those with spina bifida may be permanently disabled. These are scary problems, to say the least. But the good news is that getting enough folic acid may protect your baby from neural tube defects by at least 50%. If you’ve already had a baby with a neural tube defect, getting enough folic acid may reduce your risk of having another child with a neural tube defect by as much as 70%. If you have had a previous child with a neural tube defect, it is recommended that you increase your daily amount of folic acid to 4000 mcg (same as 4 mg) each day. Check with your doctor about how much you should take.
When taken before and during pregnancy, folic acid may also protect your baby against:
- Cleft lip and palate
- Premature birth
- Low birth weight
- Poor growth in the womb