Many women know at least a little bit about the significance of folic acid during pregnancy and the fact that a folic acid supplement is one of the most important pregnancy supplements for women. We look at why this is so and also other facts regarding folate and its dosages.
The importance of folic acid during pregnancy
Folate is important for cells that divide rapidly. Rapid cell division occurs during the early stages of a pregnancy and this is why folate is so important during the first trimester. It is needed for DNA and blood cell formation among other things.
A lack of folic acid can cause neural tube defects in a fetus, which is an incomplete development of the brain and spinal cord.
This could cause defects such as spina bifida, which is when the spinal cord and spinal column of the baby fail to close properly.
Anencephaly is a condition where the development of the brain is incomplete and this may also happen as a result of folic acid deficiency.
Sometimes the brain tissue may protrude from an abnormal opening in the skull in a condition called encephalocele.
There is also evidence to show that sufficient folic acid during pregnancy could help to reduce other congenital abnormities such as fetal growth retardation, cleft lip, certain limp abnormalities, congenital heart defects and also certain urinary tract abnormalities.
Lack of this vital nutrient is also associated with pregnancy complications such as preeclampsia, premature birth, low birth weight and placental problems as well as with increased risk of miscarriage. It is also thought that adequate amount of folate in pregnancy could help the baby avoid metabolic syndrome in future.
When to start taking folic acid during pregnancy
Folate is important at the time of conception and during the very early part of the pregnancy. This is the stage of pregnancy when neural tube defects could occur if a woman is deficient in folate. So a folic acid supplement is optimally useful if a woman starts to take it before her conception.
According to March of Dimes, around half of all American pregnancies are unplanned and so to get the most out of folic acid during pregnancy, women of childbearing age should have a folate supplement of 400 mcg anyway, regardless of whether they are trying to get pregnant or not. This dosage can be increased to 600 mcg once a woman knows that she is pregnant.
There are an estimated 3000 cases of neural tube defects in the United States each year, 70% of which could be avoided with adequate folic acid supplementation.
How to get folic acid from dietary sources
While a supplement is important, it is also essential to eat foods that are a good source of folate. Good sources of dietary folic acid during pregnancy are oranges, spinach, lentils, beans, wheat germ, eggs, fortified breakfast cereals, peanuts, asparagus, broccoli, romaine lettuce and many others.
Having a balanced diet that is also varied will ensure that a woman gets the amount of folate that she needs during her pregnancy.