Pregnancy is the most important phase for a woman wherein she needs to take utmost care of herself. Her food habits, physical and emotional well-being should be the top priority.
As soon as you go to your gynecologist for the first visit, he/she gives you all the basic do’s and dont’s supplemented with a list of essential multivitamins. There is a very important vitamin which is crucial for the development of a baby’s neural tube. It is known as Folic Acid. Most women who have been pregnant know about Folic acid as it is one of the first supplements prescribed by doctors during pregnancy.
Folic acid or folate, which is referred to as the ‘pregnancy superhero’, should be consumed by women before and after they get pregnant. In this article, we will be talking about Folic acid, its importance and the sources from where you can get it.
What is Folic Acid?
Folic acid is a synthetic form of vitamin B9 found in fortified foods and other supplements. It is usually utilized by the body to produce new cells and nucleic acid. In layman terms, it is an essential vitamin for the healthy growth and development of the baby and helps in carrying out specific functions such as producing red blood cells, protecting the child’s ability to hear and supporting the baby’s organ development.
Experts recommend taking 400mcg of folic acid along with prenatal vitamins every day before and during pregnancy. So, if you are not pregnant but, have started planning you can consult your doctor and if advised you can begin consuming Folic acid supplements.
The Importance of Folic Acid
- Prevents Neural Tube defects – The neural tube of your baby grows into the brain and spinal cord and this is protected by Folic acid. It is very important for the smooth functioning of the Central Nervous System and to avoid any prenatal defects.
- Produces RBCs – It keeps the RBC count normal in your body during pregnancy.
- Keeps the expectant mom safe from various complications that could occur during pregnancy.
- Folic acid is required for the production, repair, and functioning of DNA. It is also important for the quick growth of the placenta and developing baby.
- Protects the baby from severe complications – A deficiency of Folic acid in an expectant mother may lead to major issues in the baby such as premature birth, poor growth, low birth weight and the most serious issue known as cleft lip or cleft palate (will be explained later in the article).
What Are The Effects Of Folic Acid Deficiency During Pregnancy?
Deficiency of folic acid will lead to pregnancy anemia with symptoms such as decreased appetite, pale skin, lack of energy, diarrhea, headache, and irritability. In the case of a moderate deficiency, you may not experience any symptoms but will lack the necessary amount of folate needed for baby’s embryonic development.
Sources of Folic Acid
- Apart from the supplements that you will be taking, there are foods which are naturally enriched with Folic acid as well. They are:
- Fortified Breakfast Cereals
- Black-eyed peas
- White Rice
- Sweet corn
What is Cleft Lip and Palate?
In early pregnancy, different parts of a baby’s face develop separately and then join together. If some parts do not join properly, the baby is born with a cleft.
A cleft lip and/or palate are the most common craniofacial abnormality (a problem to do with the skull and face) which babies can be born with.
A cleft lip can range from a little notch in the colored part of the lip to a complete separation of the upper lip which can extend up and into the nose and a Cleft Palate is a gap in the roof of the mouth. Around one in seven hundred babies are born with a cleft around the world. Most of the times, surgery is needed to close the gap left by the Cleft and this usually happens when the baby is under a year.
Folic acid and Cleft
Women who take folic acid supplements early in their pregnancy can substantially reduce their baby’s chances of being born with a facial cleft.
Researchers at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), part of the National Institutes of Health, found that 0.4 milligrams (mg) a day of folic acid reduced by one third the baby’s risk of isolated cleft lip (with or without cleft palate).
Your doctor will advise you to start taking folic acid when you plan to conceive. Considering that most birth defects could develop in the first trimester, consuming folate even before you conceive can be extremely helpful.
Also read: Importance Of Folic Acid Before Pregnancy