8 Reasons You Must Take Folic Acid Before & During Pregnancy

Regular consumption of foods that contain folates as well as daily intake of 400 mcg of folic acid supplement before conception, and a prenatal vitamin with 600 mcg of folic acid once pregnancy is confirmed is recommended for these salient reasons:

1. NEURAL TUBE DEFECTS (NTD)
Without folic acid, the neural tube, which develops into the baby’s brain and spinal cord, may be deformed and the baby may develop spina bifida or anencephaly. This implies the baby’s brain will not develop fully as the largest part of the brain consisting of  the cerebrum will be missing. Babies with anencephaly usually do not live long, and those with spina bifida may be permanently disabled. These defects occur in the early stage of pregnancy, usually before most women know they’re pregnant. Intake of daily recommended dose, from at least one month before conception and during the first trimester, reduces your baby’s risk of having NTDs up to 70%.

2. RISK OF ORAL CLEFTS
Oral clefts happen very early in pregnancy. The baby’s lips and palate or both fails to develop fully, resulting in a deformation of the organs. Folic acid reduces your unborn child’s risk of having deformed lips and/or palate.

3. CONGENITAL HEART DEFECT
A congenital heart defect is an abnormality in any part of the baby’s heart present at birth. They spring up in the early weeks of pregnancy when the baby’s heart is forming. Folic acid helps to curb the incidence of this defect.

4. PREGNANCY COMPLICATIONS
Studies suggest that women who took folic acid supplements during the second trimester had a reduced risk of having pregnancy-induced high blood pressure; a complex disorder called preeclampsia, which adversely affects the mother and baby’s health.

5. PREMATURE BIRTH
The earlier a baby is delivered, the greater the risk of serious complications, including bleeding in the brain, infection, delayed growth and intestinal problems. Researchers say taking folic acid supplement a year before getting pregnant reduces the risk of having a pre-term delivery between 20 – 28 weeks and 28 – 32 weeks of gestation by seventy and fifty percent respectively.

6. AUTISM
A study by researchers at the UC Davis MIND Institute suggests that women who consume the recommended daily dosage of folic acid during the first month of pregnancy cut their risk of having a child with autism, a neuro developmental disorder characterized by impairments in social interaction, communication deficits and repetitive behaviours, often accompanied by intellectual disability.

7. RED BLOOD CELL FORMATION
Adequate intake of folic acid throughout pregnancy plays a vital role in producing the additional red blood cells your body needs during pregnancy, reducing your risk of having anaemia characterised by a reduction in the number of red blood cells.

8. RAPID DEVELOPMENT
Folic acid is essential for the production, repair and proper functioning of DNA- the body’s genetic map and a basic building block of cells. Without adequate amounts, cell division could be impaired, leading to poor cell growth in the placenta and your developing baby.

Note that unless otherwise prescribed by a doctor, you should not take more than 1,000 mcg of folic acid per day. If you have a vitamin B12 deficiency, too much folic acid can mask a condition called ‘pernicious anaemia.’ Also, if you are obese, diabetic, taking anti-seizure medications, had a previous pregnancy affected by NTD or taking drugs for epilepsy, you should see your doctor at least a month before trying to conceive to find out the appropriate folic acid dose for you.

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