If you think you might be pregnant or if you are considering trying for a baby, you need to know about the importance of folic acid in pregnancy. Folic acid, also known as folate, is a B vitamin which is vital for the healthy development of the fetus, particularly in early pregnancy.
What is the role of folic acid in pregnancy?
You may be wondering what folic acid does for the baby. Folic acid plays a vital role in the healthy development of the baby’s spinal cord and brain in the womb. An adequate intake of folic acid during pregnancy has been shown to reduce the risk of birth defects such as spina bifida (when the spine doesn’t develop properly) and anencephaly (when parts of the brain and skull don’t develop properly).
How much do you need?
Different health organizations and government bodies provide varying figures, but the general consensus lies between 400-800 micrograms. Consult your healthcare provider as different women may have different requirements depending on family history – and you may be doubling up if you are already taking a pre or pro-natal supplement.
What foods contain folic acid?
Folic acid is found in a range of foods, including whole grain foods (such as brown rice and granary bread), liver, nuts (yes, even peanut butter counts!), dried pulses (lentils and beans – soak and add to stews and soups), eggs and dark green leafy veggies. Not sure about any of these? You can also find folate in avocadoes, bananas, squash and corn (tortillas, tamales and taco shells). Many foods even have folic acid added to them in order to supplement that which you find naturally in your diet – breakfast cereals in particular.
Think you might be pregnant and haven’t been taking folic acid tablets?
Don’t panic! However, it is advisable as an additional safeguard against unwanted complications that pregnant mothers take extra folic acid in tablet form for the duration of their pregnancy. If you are pregnant and haven’t been taking supplements of folic acid it is advisable that you start right away. You can find folic acid alongside vitamin supplements in your local drugstore and in most health food stores. Then book an appointment with your ob-gyn who will assess your concerns and accompany you in the rest of your pregnancy.