Folic Acid Prior to Pregnancy

Why Take Folic Acid?

Did you know that you can help prevent birth defects even prior to pregnancy? One critical thing a woman can do is take folic acid every day both before conception and throughout early pregnancy. While most women recognize the importance of not smoking, drinking, or taking drugs, and of getting tested for certain health conditions that could affect the health of their baby (such as HIV/AIDS and sexually transmitted diseases), relatively few women are aware of the precaution of taking folic acid prior to pregnancy.

Folic acid is a vitamin that plays a key role in the formation of DNA and in the body's making of red blood cells. Taking folic acid before and during pregnancy has been proven to greatly reduce the risk of neural tube defects - defects that affect the development of the baby's spine and nervous system. Common neural tube defects include spina bifida, anencephaly, and encephalocele. These birth defects can even occur during the first 28 days of a woman's pregnancy - in other words, before she even knows she is pregnant!

Moreover, only about half of all pregnancies are planned! Therefore every woman of childbearing age should be aware of the importance of getting enough folic acid.  In fact, any women of child bearing age who is engaging in sexual activity should take folic acid just in case because most women don't realize they are pregnant till a few weeks after the development of their baby has already begun.  By ensuring you have folic acid in your system already you can help to ensure your baby's healthy development.

What is Folic Acid?

Folic acid, also known as folate, is a B vitamin (B9) naturally found in leafy green vegetables, legumes, enriched grains and orange juice. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) mandated in 1998 that folic acid be added to enriched grain products such as pastas, bread, and breakfast cereals. However, in order to obtain the daily allowance of folic acid recommended for all women of childbearing age, and especially for women who are planning a pregnancy or are in the first trimester of their pregnancy, eating fortified foods is likely insufficient. It is therefore recommended that women boost their folic acid intake by taking a prenatal vitamin supplement.

Studies have shown that 400 micrograms (0.4 milligrams) of daily folic acid daily both prior to getting pregnant and during early pregnancy can reduce the risk of neural tube defects by up to 70%.

How to Take Folic Acid

While prenatal vitamins should never replace healthy eating habits or a well-balanced diet, most doctors suggest taking a folic acid vitamin supplement. This can be obtained over the counter or through a prescription. If you have suffered from a neural tube defect in an earlier pregnancy, your doctor might recommend an even higher dose of daily folic acid before and during pregnancy.

Other forms of this critical vitamin include tablet, liquid, and injection.

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