Folic acid, also known as Vitamin B9 is used within the body for cell growth and regeneration, and is needed in increased amounts by pregnant women. Inadequate levels of folic acid can lead to brain defects and neural tube birth defects.
Folate deficiency also increases the risk of spinal cord defects, such as Spina Bifida in new born babies. Women who deliver their first child with a neural tube defect (NTD) have a higher chance of their second child having a neural tube defect. Low folic acid levels increase the risk of miscarriages, placental abruption and preterm delivery. Folate deficiency can also lead to anaemia (macrocytic), which is shown through fatigue and weakness.
This problem can arise in early pregnancy, so regular intake of folic acid or folic acid supplements is important both in early pregnancy and prior to conception.
A pregnant woman should increase her folic acid intake to at least 600 micrograms of folic acid per day. Prenatal vitamins have the right amount of folic acid that is needed during pregnancy.
Most women should limit the amount of folic acid they take to 1,000 micrograms a day unless otherwise directed by a health provider.
Women who have had a previous pregnancy affected by birth defects of the brain and spine, and women with sickle cell disease should speak with their health providers about specific levels of folic acid.
To make sure that you’re getting enough folic acid, read food and vitamin nutrition labels or facts. Folic acid is also called “folate.” The amount of folic acid or folate in a vitamins or food may be given as either 400 micrograms or 0.4 mg. “mg”. They are the same amounts.
Nutrition information on food and dietary supplement labels can help women verify whether they are getting enough folate, which is 400 micrograms (0.4 milligrams) a day, before pregnancy and 600 micrograms a day during pregnancy.
During pregnancy, folic acid helps the neural tube of the foetus, which develops into the brain and spinal cord. If you don’t have enough folic acid, the neural tube may not close correctly, which increases the risk of conditions such as Spina Bifida, (a condition in which the spinal cord and/or a sac filled with fluid protrudes through an opening in the back — or anencephaly). Babies with anencephaly usually do not live long, and those with spina bifida may be permanently disabled.
Folic acid can reduce the incidence of NTDs by as much as 70 percent. Research has also found that when taken before and during pregnancy, folic acid may also protect against other birth defects, like:
In addition, it not only protects your baby from birth defects, folic acid may also protect the mother’s health. Studies show it may lower the risks of heart disease, stroke, and some types of cancers.
Meat – chicken giblets, kidney and egg yolk.
Starches – wholegrain breads, wheat flour, potato and sweet potato.
Legumes – dried beans, lentils, split peas (dhals), soya products, almonds and nuts.
Fruits and Vegetables – spinach, beetroot, brussel sprouts, broccoli, cabbage, asparagus, banana, oranges and peaches.
Steaming is a gentler method of cooking than boiling. Don’t overcook vegetables, because this destroys the folic acid. Liver contains high levels of folic acid, but should not be eaten while pregnant or if planning a pregnancy. Liver contains high levels of vitamin A, which may harm your baby.
It should be noted that folic acid is depleted through the use of many prescription drugs:
•Choline magnesium and salicylates