Folic acid or folate is an essential vitamin for pregnant women. Just eating foods that contain folates and taking the recommended amount of Vitamin B9 before pregnancy and during your pregnancy can help prevent serious birth defects to your baby’s brain and spinal cord.
Here are 8 ways folic acid can be very vital for your baby:
1). Prevent Neural Tube Defects (NTD)
Lack of folic acid can cause a deformity in the neural tube which grows into the baby’s brain and spinal cord. When the neural tube does not form completely or properly, the baby’s cerebrum, which is the largest part of the brain will not develop fully and this can result in the congenital disorders spina bifida or anencephaly. Spina bifida involves the incomplete development of the spinal cord. Anencephaly is the abnormal development of the brain and bones of the skull. Babies with anencephaly have very short life expectancy, and those with spina bifida may be disabled for life. These birth defects occur in the early stages of pregnancy, usually before most women are aware that they are pregnant. It’s important to get the daily recommended dose of 400 micrograms of folic acid every day as early as when you’re trying to conceive and during the first trimester in order to reduce your baby’s risk of having NTDs. Getting the proper amount of folic acid early on can reduce these risks by up to 70%.
2). Helps prevent oral cleft
Oral clefts are very common birth defects which can happen in the very early stage of pregnancy. It is a condition where parts of the baby’s mouth or lips do not develop fully resulting in a deformed lip/mouth or even a side of the face. Taking at least 400 mcg of folic acid daily during early pregnancy (the first trimester) lowers the risk by about a third.
3). Prevents congenital heart defects
A congenital heart defect occurs when the baby’s heart is born with underdeveloped or missing parts. These birth defects change the normal flow of blood through the heart. Some babies are born with simple conditions that they can manage throughout their lifetime or even outgrow later on in life. Other babies are born with very complex congenital heart defects and will require intensive medical care soon after birth. Studies show that folic acid can protect your baby from the risk of heart defects by about 7%.
4). Prevent pregnancy complications
Studies published in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology suggest that women who took folic acid supplements during the second trimester reduced their risk of developing preeclampsia by about 63%. Preeclampsia occurs when the mother exhibits symptoms of hypertension, a condition wherein her blood pressure rises to very high levels and protein in her urine becomes too high.
5). Prevent premature birth
A premature baby, born before 37 weeks, has a higher risk of developing more health problems during birth and other long-term health problems that can affect their whole lives. Premature babies may develop health problems such as jaundice, anemia, pneumonia, meningitis, breathing problems, bleeding in the brain and fluid in the lungs. Taking folic acid between 20 – 28 weeks can reduce the risk of these complications by 70% and during 28 – 32 weeks of gestation by about 50%.
6). Prevent autism
A new study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association suggests that women who take the recommended daily dosage of folic acid during their first month of pregnancy may cut their risk of having a child with autism by about 40%. Autism is a lifelong developmental disorder characterized by difficulty in communicating, inability to form relationships, repetitive behaviors, and, in some children, intellectual disability.
7). Prevents folate-deficiency anemia
Folic acid helps your body produce new red blood cells. Red blood cells carry oxygen to other cells in the body. When there is not enough red blood cells, you can develop anemia, which can cause tiredness, palpitations, shortness of breath, and dizziness or fainting. When anemia is severe, it can result in chest pains (angina), headache and leg pains. During pregnancy the body needs more folic acid to make more red blood cells, so take the recommended dose each day to bring your folic acid level to normal.
8). Stimulate rapid cell growth
Folic acid is one of the most important building blocks of the body. It is essential for DNA formation and cell division especially during rapid cell development when your baby’s organs are being formed early in pregnancy. Lack of folic acid could hinder cell division and lead to damaged cell growth in the placenta and your developing baby.
The recommended daily intake for all women of childbearing age is at least 400 micrograms of folic acid a day. During pregnancy, you may need 600 micrograms a day. For breastfeeding women, the recommended amount is 500 mcg daily. If you have folic acid deficiency, your doctor may prescribe no more than 1,000 micrograms for daily intake. Always consult with your doctor to find out the appropriate folic acid dose for you.