Folic acid belongs to the B class of vitamins that is essential for your body to maintain function. Folic acid, also known as folate, is needed for nearly every function of your body. You need folate to make proteins for cell growth and metabolism, and you also need it for the synthesis, replication and repair of your DNA. Therefore, it is easy to see that without sufficient folate, your body’s most basic building systems will shutdown. The need for folic acid is especially high whenever rapid cellular growth and development occur. This makes folic acid intake a critical watch point for women during pregnancy.
Folate before Conception
The recommended daily dietary intake of folate for an average adult is 400 micrograms. This is especially important to keep in mind for women during their reproductive ages. Studies have shown that women who take a minimum of 400 micrograms of folate per day before conception, have a lower chance for preterm labor. This lowers the risks of severe birth defects in newborns by nearly 70%.
A baby’s neural tube development occurs within the first 28 days of conception, usually before a woman even knows she’s pregnant, and inadequate folate supply can result in irreversible damages to the fetus. Babies born to folic acid deficient women commonly suffer from defects such as:
- Spina bifida: Incomplete closure of the spinal cord and spinal column
- Anencephaly: Severe underdevelopment of the brain
- Encephalocele. Protrusion of brain tissue from an abnormal skull opening
Folate during and after Pregnancy
The human body needs folate to make healthy red blood cells to carry oxygen. Not having enough folate in your blood can cause defects in red blood cells and impair your oxygen delivery capacity. To supply enough oxygen to the baby, pregnant women need additional folate to meet the increased demand for extra blood cells. An insufficient oxygen supply can severely inhibit all aspects of fetal growth and development, increasing the risks for preterm labor and neonatal defects.
For pregnant women, the need for additional folate does not stop at birth. During lactation, significant amounts of folate is taken up by breast milk to supply it to the baby. Since rapid cell growth occurs during infancy, nursing mothers are recommended to take folate supplements to prevent both themselves and their babies from folic acid deficiency.
How Much Folate Is Necessary for Pregnancy?
Women during their reproductive ages are recommended to have a minimum of 400 micrograms per day through regular diet and an additional 400 micrograms through supplements. Some doctors may suggest even higher amounts of folate intake from the third trimester of pregnancy to 3 months after labor.
How to Get Enough Folate
The best way to prevent folate deficiency is through a balanced diet from a variety of foods. Dark leafy vegetables, fruits, beans and legumes, fortified cereals and juices, whole grains and sunflower seeds are extremely rich in folate. For pregnant women, the need to for all nutrients rises, so prenatal vitamins are usually suggested as supplementation to a well-balanced diet.
Nothing is more important than the health and well-being of your baby. With attentive prenatal care and postnatal maintenance, you can look forward to welcoming a happy new member to your family.