January is National Birth Defects Prevention Month, making now the perfect time to learn about why folic acid is so important during pregnancy. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about one in every 33 babies is born with a birth defect. The number one recommendation for birth defect prevention is getting at least 400 micrograms of folic acid every day.
Folic acid is a B vitamin that your body uses to make new cells. Your body makes new cells every day in all parts of your body. Experts recommend that all women of reproductive age get enough folic acid, but it is especially important for women who are trying to get pregnant or are already pregnant. Now that we know that getting folic acid during pregnancy is important, let’s look at why it’s important, how much to get, and how you can get it.
1. It Can Decrease the Risk of Birth Defects
Because of its role in cell production, folic acid is a crucial nutrient for a growing fetus to receive. During the early phases of development, the fetus’s neural tube forms. The neural tube is the beginning of the spinal cord and brain, so if it doesn’t develop correctly, the baby could have serious birth defects in the brain and spine.
Folic acid decreases the risk of neural tube defects like spina bifida and anencephaly by up to 70%, especially if it is taken in the months before pregnancy. Research also shows that folic acid can help lower the risk of miscarriage, congenital heart defects, gestational diabetes, preterm labor, and even autism.
2. How Much You Need Can Vary
The general rule is for all women of reproductive age, especially pregnant women, get 400-800 micrograms of folic acid every day. However, there are some factors that may indicate you need to take more. For instance, if you’ve already had a baby with a neural tube defect and want to get pregnant again, the Office on Women’s Health recommends you get 4,000 micrograms. Talk to your doctor about how much you should get based on your health and family history.
3. You Can Find it in Foods
The best place to start getting folic acid during pregnancy is through healthy foods. Some foods are fortified with folate. These foods include enriched breakfast cereals, pasta, rice, and bread. Look at the nutrition labels on fortified grains to make sure that it has 100% of the daily recommended folic acid allowance. There are also many foods that naturally have folate or folic acid:
- Brussels sprouts
- Orange Juice
- Black-eyed peas
- Pinto, navy, black, kidney, great northern, and white beans
- Sunflower seeds
4. You May Need a Supplement
As with most nutrients, it’s best to get as much folic acid from food sources, but it can be difficult to get enough folic acid during pregnancy through diet alone. Find a prenatal vitamin that has folic acid and ask your OB/GYN about whether you need a separate folic acid supplement. Your doctor may have recommendations on specific brands of over the counter prenatal vitamins and supplements. They may also write you a prescription for prenatal vitamins supplements based on your unique needs.
5. You Still Need It When You’re Not Pregnant
While folic acid is especially important during pregnancy, you need to get the recommended amount even when you’re not pregnant. The CDC recommends that every woman of reproductive age get 400 mcg a day even if she is not planning to get pregnant. If you are planning on getting pregnant, you should start making sure you get the recommended amount as soon as you know you’re going to start trying. The earlier you take it, the better. Studies have also shown that breastfeeding mothers benefit from getting plenty of B vitamins like folate. Those not planning to get pregnant still need the nutrient so their bodies can make new cells.
The physicians and staff of Green Valley OB/GYN are committed to providing our patients with full-scope gynecological and obstetric care. Our doctors have expertise in managing both high and low risk pregnancies. If you are pregnant or trying to get pregnant and have questions about prenatal health issues, call us at (336) 378-1110 to make an appointment.