Find out why folic acid is important for your baby’s development, how much you need, and the best ways to be sure you’re getting enough.
Folic acid, also known as folate or folacin, plays a role in the development of the nervous system as well as cell growth and the construction of DNA, the basis of our genetic code. It is therefore very important in the development of the fetus. It is also necessary in the production and multiplication of red blood cells, which is why it’s important during physical activity and for oxygen transport. Studies also show that taking a daily supplement of 0.4 mg (400 μg) of folic acid before conception and during the early months of pregnancy reduces the risk of the baby developing a neural tube defect (NTD) by 50%.
Risks associated with folate deficiency
The neural tube is the structure that will become the spinal column of the fetus roughly 25 days after conception. Serious abnormalities can occur if the tube fails develop properly and does not close leading to miscarriage, stillbirth, birth defects, developmental disabilities or physical disabilities, such as spina bifida. These disabilities, with varying degrees of severity, can lead to malformations, inability to control bladder and bowels and paralysis of lower limbs.
Folic acid requirements
While the needs of people ages 14 and over are 0.4 mg (400 μg) per day, pregnant and breastfeeding women have slightly higher needs of 0.6 mg (600 μg) and 0.5 mg (500 μg) per day respectively. When we look at the foods that women typically consume, the amount of folate these foods provide is roughly 0.1 (100 mcg) per day, not nearly enough. It is therefore recommended that pregnant women, or women who are thinking about becoming pregnant take a supplement containing 0.4 mg (400 mcg) of folic acid per day. As an extra precaution, a multivitamin supplement designed for pregnant women that also contains iron and vitamin B12, two other important micronutrients that are important for mom and baby, is recommended over a supplement that contains only folic acid.
Food sources of folate
There are many sources of folate in our diet, but you would need to eat a large quantity, in order to meet the increased daily needs during pregnancy. In fact, even with fortification of foods like flour, we still find that women are not meeting the requirements. That being said, foods that are rich in folate are also rich in other vitamins and minerals and great additions to your diet during your pregnancy. Here are some food sources of folate: spinach, asparagus, brussel sprouts, broccoli, organ meats, beans, enriched pasta, flaxseed, sunflower seeds, wheat germ, red peppers, quinoa, orange juice and salmon.
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