The Importance of Folic Acid During Pregnancy
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Pregnant women, or those wanting to conceive, need to pay attention to their folic acid intake. Folic acid, also known as folate, is needed for normal fetal development and general maternal health. Here’s what you need to know.
Folic acid prevents neural tube abnormalities
The growth of a baby’s nervous system happens very early during fetal development. The neural tube is the tissue that will ultimately develop the central nervous system. Neural tube defects are potentially serious abnormalities of the nervous system that occur within the first few weeks of pregnancy. The two most common neural tube defects are spina bifida, where the spinal column does not close completely, and anencephaly, where most of the brain does not develop. The consequences of neural tube defects can be potentially devastating; spina bifida may result in damage to the nerves or spinal cord, and infants with anencephaly have a very slim chance of survival. Folic acid is known to play a key role in the development of the nervous system, and adequate folic acid intake is recommended for all pregnant women, to prevent neural tube abnormalities.
Folic acid is important for other reasons too
In addition to its role in normal nervous system development, some research suggests that other birth defects may be prevented through folic acid. Furthermore, folic acid is needed for normal DNA production and repair, and it is required for normal functioning of red blood cells, preventing anaemia. Folic acid also reduces the risk of pregnancy complications and other medical conditions like heart disease and stroke.
How much folic acid should you be taking?
The recommended dose of folic acid is 400 micrograms daily. This should ideally begin a month before conception. Since pregnancy is associated with an increased demand for folic acid, the dose may increase later in pregnancy, or may be higher from the start for women with a previous history of neural tube defects in pregnancy. Your antenatal clinic will advise you on the best dosage for you. While pregnant women shouldn’t rely on nutrition alone when it comes to folic acid, it is also worth paying attention to your dietary intake. Beans, lentils, dark-green vegetables and nuts are good sources of folic acid.
The information in this article is intended for general purposes only. If you have any concerns about your health or the health of your child, you should always consult with a healthcare professional.