Folic acid- why should I consider taking it?

When you are planning to become pregnant, there are a number of things you may automatically consider, but often, diet, vitamin, and mineral supplements are not amongst them.

Folate, or ‘folic acid’, is a B-group vitamin, which is important for the healthy development of a baby in early pregnancy since they can help prevent birth defects known as neural tube defects, such as spina bifida.

Foods, which are naturally rich in folate, include;

vegetables (broccoli, Brussel sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, English spinach, green beans, lettuce, mushrooms, parsnip, sweet corn, zucchini) fruit (avocado, grapefruit, orange) legumes (chickpeas, soya beans, lima beans, red kidney beans, lentils, haricot beans) eggs nuts juices (many apple and orange juices)

Because folate is easily destroyed by cooking, raw (washed) fruit and vegetables, or lightly cooked ones are best for obtaining folate in your diet and folic acid supplements are recommended for women who are planning to become pregnant or are pregnant due to the easily destructible nature of folate in naturally occurring sources.

A supplement with 400 micro-grams of folic acid per day from 12 weeks before you become pregnant through to the first 12 weeks of pregnancy is advisable, to ensure that your folic acid levels are high enough to prevent development concerns in your growing baby.

You can either look on the contents label of the packet (usually on the back of the bottle or packet) or ask you pharmacist how much each supplement contains to ensure that you are taking a supplement with the correct amount of folic acid.

So what exactly are neural tube defects? When an unborn baby is developing, the neural tube will later become the baby’s brain, spinal cord and the bones that enclose them. If something goes wrong in their development, the result is called a neural tube defect. These issues can cause a wide range of disabilities such as loss of bladder and bowel control and paralysis of the legs. A baby’s neural tube is formed in the first four to six weeks of pregnancy and by the time most women know they are pregnant, the neural tube has already developed and the opportunity for benefiting from additional folic acid has passed.

Some women have an increased risk of having a pregnancy affected by a neural tube defect and are advised to take a higher dose of 5 milligrams (5mg) of folic acid each day until they are 12 weeks pregnant.

Women have an increased risk if:

they or their partner have a neural tube defect they or their partner have a family history of neural tube defects they have had a previous pregnancy affected by a neural tube defect they have diabetes

If you may fall into one of these categories, you should discuss this with your health care professional, as there may be additional recommendations for you to consider while you are pregnant.

Taking additional folic acid if you are not in one of these categories is unlikely to be of any benefit to your or your baby. More is not always a better option when it comes to supplements, especially when you are pregnant.

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