Folic acid is a man-made form of B vitamin called folate. It is abundantly present in leafy green vegetables, citrus fruits, and fortified cereals. The recommended dose of folate for all women of childbearing age is 400 mcg every day. The CDC (The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, US) suggests beginning on this dosage at least a month before you start trying to conceive. During pregnancy, folate is necessary for the proper growth of the baby and overall good health of the mother.
Read below to know why folate is called the “superhero” of pregnancy.
The Importance Of Folate During Pregnancy
1. Prevents Severe Birth Defects
The first 12 weeks of pregnancy is the time when your baby’s initial brain and spinal cord development happens. As you wouldn’t be aware of your pregnancy until at least 5 weeks, it is important that you start taking the recommended dosage when you plan to start a family. Without enough folic acid, the baby may develop birth defects like spina bifida and anencephaly.
Spina bifida is a condition when the protective covering of the spinal cord of the fetus doesn’t close completely, leaving a gap. This improper development of spinal cord leads to paralysis or permanent disability in the baby. Getting the right amount of folic acid reduces the risk of this condition by 50%. In case you had a baby with this condition in your previous pregnancy, the right amount of folic acid decreases the chances of bearing such a child again by 70%. However, the dosage is increased to 4000 mcg per day in this case.
Anencephaly is characterized by incomplete development of major parts of the brain. A baby born with this condition doesn’t live long.
2. Aids Adequate Red Blood Cell Formation
The main function of the red blood cells (RBCs) is carrying oxygen to all the parts of the body. During pregnancy, your body has to produce extra RBCs to support the growth of the baby. Folic acid is necessary to meet this additional requirement. Insufficient production of the same leads to anemia, which is the inadequate supply of oxygen, causing weakness in the mother.
Severe deficiency of RBCs is yet another reason for the above-mentioned birth defects. In some cases, a blood transfusion might be required.
3. Prevents Poor Growth In Womb
Being on folic acid supplements throughout pregnancy has shown to reduce the risk of poor growth of the baby in the womb. Poor growth contributes to low birth weight, which is a common problem when babies are born.
The dosage of folic acid before pregnancy and during the first trimester is 400 mcg, during second and third trimesters is 600 mcg, and when breastfeeding is 500 mcg. Your doctor would probably prescribe these dosages, but if not, make sure your multivitamin or folic acid supplement alone has the specified amounts.
4. Avoids Minor Birth Defects
Cleft palate or cleft lips is another birth defect that occurs during the early stage of pregnancy. It is an oral malformation when there is not enough tissue on the mouth/lip area to form fully developed lips. This results in a gap either on the upper or the lower lip. Taking folic acid without fail during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy helps avoid this condition.
5. Protects The Mother From Pregnancy Complications
Popping a folic acid pill every day during the second trimester reduces the chances of the mother getting preeclampsia. It is condition resulting in high blood pressure usually after 22 weeks, which, in severe cases, could be fatal to both the baby and the mother.
The importance of folic acid during the first trimester just cannot be emphasized enough. About 10–20% of known pregnancies end in miscarriage and more than 80% of these cases happen before 12 weeks. An adequate dosage of folic acid reduces the risk of miscarriage considerably.
6. Guard The Mother Against Various Conditions
Studies have shown a link between folic acid consumption during pregnancy and its role in preventing different diseases in the mother in later stages of life. If taken as per the prescribed dosage, folic acid can guard the mother against heart diseases, stroke, Alzheimer’s disease, and some types of cancer.
Check with your doctor about the dosage requirements depending on your BMI and health conditions. Also, outline a diet which is rich in folic acid in order to meet a part of the additional demand during pregnancy.