Grow a Healthy Child - Why You Need Folic Acid During Pregnancy

Vitamins for a Healthy Pregnancy


Super healthy kids start with a super healthy mom. It is just as important for moms to be careful about getting the vitamins and minerals they need while the baby is developing in-utero as it is to make sure that children get the nutrition for growth after they are born. One very important vitamin moms need, especially during the first weeks of pregnancy is folic acid.

Folic Acid is a synthetic form of Folate which is one of the B vitamins (B9).

In the body, this is used in cell division and growth. Folic Acid is more easily absorbed and used by the body. Because of this, is used to fortify foods such as grains, flour and ready to eat cereal. Folate is naturally found in leafy greens like spinach and legumes, especially lentils. It can also be found in vegetables like broccoli, asparagus, and citrus fruits.

Neural Tube Defects

Research has shown a direct link between adequate intake of Folic Acid and a reduction in Neural Tube Defect (NTD) birth defects. In 1998, a national program mandated fortification of some foods with folic acid. Since this time there has been a significant reduction in neural tube defects. The number of  pregnancies affected by an NTD has been reduced by 1000 per year in the US since 1998.

Growth and development of the brain and spinal cord occurs within the first 21-27 days after conception. During this time women often do not even realize they are pregnant.

That's why it is important that women planning to become pregnant are receiving the recommended 400 micrograms every day of folic acid. This can be done through a combination of supplementation, fortification, and a healthy diet. Women should begin taking folic acid at least 1 month prior to getting pregnant.

In the United States, 50% of pregnancy are unplanned. Therefore, it has been suggested that all women of childbearing age take a folic acid supplement.

Neural tube defects are serious birth defects that affect the brain or spinal cord. “Neural tube defects occur when the neural tube fails to close early in embryonic development” (National Institutes of Health) The result of this failure to close exposes the underlying neural tissue. In the United States 3,000 pregnancies are affected by spina bifida or anencephaly. Fifty to 70 percent of  these could be prevented if women consumed 400 micrograms of folic acid before and during their pregnancy. This type of birth defect results in sickness or death, depending on the location and severity.

A Well-Balanced Diet

Although it is important to eat a healthy diet that includes many fruits and vegetables, it can be difficult to get enough folic acid in your diet through diet alone. Two ways to ensure you are getting the proper amount of folic acid in your diet is to first, take a folic acid supplement.

This can be found in a multi-vitamin or a smaller supplement with only folic acid. Second, eating a bowl of cereal that contains 100% of the daily value of folic acid every day will help meet the folic acid recommendations. There are many cereals that include the right amount of folic acid. This information can be found on the nutrition label of the cereal. It will say 100% of the folic acid daily value or 400 mcg per serving. Eating a well-balanced diet will help you meet your recommended amount of vitamins.  With women and pregnancy, it is recommended by health care providers to include a supplement to insure the proper amounts required to achieve healthy embryonic development.

Some good food sources of folate include spinach, asparagus, Brussels sprouts, and black eyed peas. Make your favorite recipes to enjoy these!

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