Pregnancy can be quite a trying time for women, testing not only her patience, strength but also her health, stretching her body’s nutrition capability to its last string. The health of the mother, therefore, directly impacts the baby and affects all aspects of the baby’s growth. And that brings us to the question of why is folic acid is crucial during pregnancy, and how it is vital to not only the mother but also the baby.
Folic acid, synthetically derived from Folate, a B Vitamin ( specifically Vitamin B) found mostly in fruits, vegetables, and nuts, helps the body break down, use, and create new proteins, an activity which is of utmost crucial during pregnancy, as it not only helps the baby’s embryonic tube to close but also assists in the heart formation process of the baby, the development of the baby’s circulatory system and helps lower the chances of the baby having any kind of neural tube defects, which may happen, especially due to a folic acid deficiency during pregnancy.
How much folic acid supplement before pregnancy is required?
Even before pregnancy, folic acid crucial in the daily diet of a woman of reproductive age. The amount of use of folic acid crucial before pregnancy, as stipulated by CDC ( Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, US ) for a woman of reproductive age, or someone who might be planning to get pregnant, is 400mcg. A higher dose may not necessarily add to the overall benefit, unless, the woman is already grappling with a pregnancy affected by neural birth defects, in which case, a generally recommended dose is 4000mcg, although it is important to take the advice of a physician.
Generally, as it is possible for a woman to get pregnant within a month of trying, it is recommended to start taking folic acid tablets two months before stopping the use of contraception.
How much folic acid supplement crucial before pregnancy is reaching a woman can also be determined by the food habits that she is having. Foods that include broccoli, brussels sprouts, spinach, asparagus, peas, chickpeas, fortified breakfast cereals, can improve folic acid consumption.
It is also recommended to include food in the diet that is rich in folate as well. Food such as black-eyed beans, hard-boiled eggs, tinned salmon, yeast extract, orange juice, or just orange, brown rice, baked potato, granary bread can serve as a good source of folate as well as other essential vitamins and minerals.
In case the mother is unable to get the required amount of folic acid from her diet alone, the use of folic acid tablets can be a crucial way to make up for it.
What happens if you don’t take folic acid during pregnancy?
Any situation that results in stopping a regular dose of folic acid for pregnancy may result in an increasing chance of developing neural tube defects such as
Incomplete development of the spinal cord or the vertebrae. The condition causes the protective covering that grows around an unborn baby’s spinal cord to close improperly, leaving a gap. This could lead to permanent nerve damage, incontinence, learning difficulties, and sometimes paralysis.
Incomplete development of major parts of the brain. It results in the baby getting born without parts of the brain and the skull. It is a result of the upper part of the neural tube not closing all the way. It leads to an absence of the front part of the brain (forbrain) and the thinking and coordinating part of the brain (cerebrum). The remaining parts of the brain are often not covered by bone or skin.
Neural birth defects can hugely impact the shape of the baby’s body, its growth as well as the life period. It may result in permanent disabilities and other tragic consequences.
Additionally, the use of folic acid during 9 months of pregnancy can also help to reduce the risk of developing conditions such as
a) Cleft lip and palate
b) Premature birth
c) Low birth weight
e) Poor growth in the womb
f) Pregnancy complications such as pre-eclampsia
g) Heart diseases
i) Some types of cancer
j) Alzheimer’s disease
k) Childhood Brain Tumours
In addition to these, lack of adequate folic acid in diet during this time can affect or rather slow down the process of formation of new healthy blood cells in combination with Vitamin B12, which can cause the mother to have a type of anemia called folate deficiency Anemia (anaemia).
When should a pregnant woman start taking folic acid?
Ideally, folic acid recommendations for pregnancy stipulates a regular dose of folic acid until the 12th week of pregnancy or the time by which the neural tube closes. Some women may not be in such a regimen of folic acid intake when they are already pregnant, but that would not affect their pregnancy that much if they start as soon as possible.
How much folic acid during pregnancy is crucial for a woman can also depend on their existing health conditions. A pre-existing condition of diabetes in the woman, or the partner, or having a history of neural birth defects can put the baby in a higher risk than normal, and therefore a higher dose is generally recommended for them, although it is always important to act under the advice of the physician or the midwife.
A folic acid dose of 5mg every day before pregnancy and during can be the safest path to follow for a woman who may want to conceive.
When should I stop taking folic acid during pregnancy?
The neural tube closes at the 12 weeks of pregnancy, and if required so, it is relatively safe to stop taking folic acid, as it will not have any more added benefits. However, it is recommended that for maintaining general health during pregnancy, folic acid should be continued to be a part of the diet.
There is no sure way of preventing birth defects with 100% certainty. Adequate consumption of folic acid before and during pregnancy can highly reduce the risks. Don’t wait till you find you are pregnant to get serious about that. Add foods fortified with it to your diet early on, especially if you are planning to conceive, to avoid any delay. Consult with your doctor to determine the right amount of folic acid for you.