Folic Acid During Pregnancy

Introduction

Folic acid has been shown to have a positive role for pregnant women for many years. It was discovered in 1941 that folic acid (a B vitamin) helps in the prevention of some birth defects, including neural tube defects, and since 1998 The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has recommended that all pregnant women take a supplement containing at least 400 micrograms (mcg) of folic acid per day. This should be started before conception occurs, as early as possible in pregnancy, and taken throughout the entire duration of the pregnancy.

In addition to preventing neural tube defects, there is growing evidence that taking appropriate doses of folic acid before and during pregnancy can reduce other risks aswell such as preterm delivery, low birth weight babies, placental abruption (where the placenta separates from the uterus prematurely), preeclampsia (high blood pressure), anemia and preeclampsia. Folic acid can also help with healthy fetal growth.

If you are planning on conceiving or are pregnant already it is important to speak with your primary doctor to discuss how much folic acid is right for you.



Health Benefits of Folic Acid During Pregnancy

Folic acid is an essential part of a pregnant woman’s diet. It is a B-vitamin that helps to prevent neural tube defects in the fetus. Taking a daily multivitamin with 400 micrograms of folic acid three months before and during pregnancy can help reduce the risk of these birth defects. Additionally, studies have shown that adequate levels of this vitamin may also lower the chance of having a miscarriage.

Beyond preventing birth defects, adequate intake of folic acid during pregnancy can aid in the development of the placenta and umbilical cord, which are vital for oxygen and nutrient transport to the unborn baby. Folic acid also helps form red blood cells and contributes to proper cell division during fetal growth in the womb. It has even been found to help boost mood since it plays a role in serotonin production, which manages stress levels and sadness. For all these health benefits, pregnant women should focus on consuming enough folic acid from natural sources such as leafy green vegetables, legumes, wheat germ, nuts, citrus fruits, and fortified grains like cereal or bread throughout their pregnancy.

Sources of Folic Acid

Folic acid is an important nutrient throughout a woman’s life, but it is especially important during pregnancy. It helps prevent birth defects of the spine and brain in early pregnancy. Therefore, pregnant women should be sure to get enough folic acid in their diets.

Foods naturally rich in folate (the form of folic acid found in food) include dark green leafy vegetables such as spinach and chard, legumes such as lentils and beans, fortified cereals, wheat germ or enriched breads or pastas, certain seeds like sunflower and flaxseed, mushrooms and citrus products like oranges or orange juice. Supplements are also available for those who need to supplement their diet with additional folic acid.

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Pregnant women should be mindful of any relevant food-safety concerns associated with consuming these foods while they’re expecting. Certain vegetables – particularly those that grow close to the ground – can contain small amounts of dirt, so it’s best to wash them thoroughly before eating them raw. Additionally, some processed meats such as hot dogs and sausages have been linked to listeria contamination which can cause serious problems for pregnant women and their babies if consumed. Properly cooked meat is generally safe to consume during pregnancy however so pregnant women should take care when eating processed meats by checking labels for ingredients and ensuring meat products are well cooked before consumption.

Dangers of Folic Acid During Pregnancy

There are certain risks to both mother and baby associated with taking too much folic acid during pregnancy. Taking more than the recommended daily amount of folic acid can lead to nausea, abdominal discomfort, bloating and gas. Additionally, it has been shown in some studies that consuming too much folic acid can increase the risk of central nervous system birth defects in babies whose mothers have consumed excessive amounts of folic acid during pregnancy.

Excess intakes of folic acid can mask signs and symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency, which can contribute to neurological issues if left untreated. Vitamin B12 helps keep nerve cells healthy and works with folate to make red blood cells and process iron in the body; an excess intake can decrease the body’s ability to absorb vitamin B12 properly. Therefore, for those women who are particularly at risk for a vitamin B12 deficiency because their diet does not include either animal-based foods or fortified foods such as cereals or breads, supplementing with a multivitamin may help meet both folate and vitamin b12 requirements simultaneously.

Additionally, there is little evidence that taking supplemental folic acid during pregnancy provides additional benefits above those achieved through getting enough from diet alone; eating a balanced diet should be able to cover most women’s needs. Therefore, it is important that pregnant women speak with their healthcare provider before beginning any type of supplement program while pregnant.

Comparisons & Alternatives

Folic acid is an essential nutrient for health and wellness throughout life, but especially during pregnancy. Studies have shown the importance of consuming adequate folic acid during pregnancy to reduce the risk of various neural tube defects in babies.

Folic acid is found in a range of foods, such as leafy green vegetables, legumes, fortified breakfast cereal, and citrus fruits. Supplements are also available as a top-up to dietary intake. If supplementing with folic acid instead of getting it from foods, be sure that the supplement includes other B vitamins (B1, B2, B3, etc.).

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When trying to obtain adequate folic acid through diet alone, it’s important to choose foods that are particularly high in this nutrient. Examples include cooked spinach (262 mcg/cup), black beans (175 mcg/cup), cooked lentils (179 mcg/cup) boiled asparagus (134 mcg/cup), and cooked broccoli (90 mcg/serving). Eating a variety of different plant-based foods throughout the day can help ensure you’re taking in the recommended amount of folate each trimester.

There are also some potential alternatives to dietary sources or supplementation with folic acid which might be beneficial during pregnancy. These include products made with sprouted grains or non-fortified whole wheat flours as these naturally contain more folates than enriched grain products do. It’s also possible to make your own fermented foods using starter cultures which boost the natural amounts of B vitamins including folates – for example sauerkraut and homemade sourdough breads.

Final Thoughts

Folic acid is an essential vitamin for pregnant women and their babies. Getting enough folic acid is important for the healthy development of a baby’s neural tube and brain and spinal cord. Without enough of this essential nutrient, a baby is at risk for developing birth defects such as spina bifida and anencephaly. Eating foods that are rich in folic acid, taking supplements that contain the far healthier form of synthetic or “folate” folic acid, or doing both together are highly recommended throughout all stages of pregnancy. Folate-rich prenatal vitamins containing 400 mcg/day are widely available over-the-counter and should be taken every day to help ensure that pregnant women get all of the nutrients they need to promote healthy pregnancies in themselves and their babies. Pregnant women should also make sure they’re eating a wide variety of nutrient-dense foods including leafy greens such as spinach; citrus fruits like oranges; legumes; nuts; grains; and fortified breakfast cereals to get even more folate from dietary sources. As a final reminder, getting enough folate can help prevent serious health problems for both mother and baby now and possibly even later on in life!



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