Advice on the importance of folic acid during the early stages of pregnancy with information on folate rich, or fortified foods and folic acid supplements.
Folic Acid (also known as 'Folate') is a naturally occurring B vitamin (B9) that can be found mostly in leafy green vegetable, orange juice and enriched grains. It is important in the manufacturing of DNA and red blood cells.
Taken daily before conception and very early in pregnancy when the neural tube is developing, it helps prevent babies being born with a serious neural tube defect. Women who get 400 micrograms (0.4 milligrams) daily can reduce this risk by up to 70%.
A neural tube defect is a birth defect of the brain and spinal cord. The most common neural tube defects are spina bifida (an incomplete closure of the spinal cord and spinal column), anencephaly (severe underdevelopment of the brain), and encephalocele (when brain tissue protrudes out to the skin from an abnormal opening in the skull).
Neural tube defects occur during the first 28 days of pregnancy, which is usually before a woman even knows she's pregnant. Given that only 50% of pregnancies are planned, some would argue that all woman of childbearing age should take folic acid, and not just those who are tring to get pregnant.
Folic acid is found naturally in the following foods (although this is by no means an exhaustive list):
- Fortified Breakfast Cereals
- Orange juice (from concentrate is best)
- Black beans
- Enriched breads and pasta
It can be difficult to get 400 micrograms of folic acid every day from your diet, so the best way to ensure you get enough is to take a vitamin supplement with 400 micrograms of folic acid. It is also important to eat a healthy diet including those foods that contain folate on a regular basis.
Remember, folic acid only works if taken before and during the first few weeks of pregnancy. Therefore, you should be taking folic acid supplements on a daily basis while you are trying to get pregnant, as well as for the first couple of months of your pregnancy.