Do you want to get pregnant? Do you want to have a healthy normal baby? Then you need to take folic acid. We all need folic acid to create normal red blood cells. Folic acid also repairs, produces and aids in the function of DNA. Because folic acid is essential to the basic building blocks of life, folic acid prevents many birth defects from occurring.
The major birth defect folic acid prevents is neural tube defects (NTDs). The neural tube is the part of the embryo from which your baby’s spine and brain develop. This is why it is so important to take folic acid while pregnant. But neural tube defects can occur at a very early stage of development, before many women even know they’re pregnant. So it’s important to begin taking folic acid before you start trying to conceive, for example while trying to get pregnant through IVF. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), you can prevent your baby’s risk of neural tube defects by up to 70 percent by taking folic acid before you start IVF or before you try to conceive. Folic acid can also prevent other serious birth defects such as cleft lip, cleft palate, and certain types of heart defects. In addition to helping your unborn baby, folic acid can also prevent preeclampsia, a serious blood pressure disorder that affects about 5 percent of pregnant women.
So now that you know how important it is to take folic acid, you might be wondering just how much you need to take. To prevent birth defects including NTDs, you should take 400 micrograms (mcg) of folic acid a day. However, the U.S. National Institutes of Health, suggests boosting your intake to at least 600 mcg daily once you’re pregnant. in any case, taking 400 mcg of folic acid a day is good for any women in the child bearing age.
If you take a multivitamin already, it may not have enough folic acid. You should check the label. Prenatal vitamins usually have 800 to 1,000 mcg of folic acid. But you don’t have to spend a fortune to get enough folic acid. One a day and other less expensive prenatal vitamins and folic acid can be found at most drug stores. Don’t take more than 1,000 mcg per day of folic acid unless your healthcare provider advises you to. Your doctor may advise you take more folic acid if you are obese. Unfortunately obesity can lead to NTDs. If you’ve previously been pregnant with a baby with a neural tube defect, you’ll probably be advised to take 4,000 mcg of folic acid a day. Be sure your current providers are aware of your history and schedule a visit before you try to get pregnant. With no intervention, women in this situation have a 3 to 5 percent chance of having another pregnancy complicated by an NTD.
What if you hate taking vitamins? Well, the problem is folic acid may be difficult to absorb in food like fortified cereal. Folic acid tends to remain in the milk at the bottom of the bowl. Research shows that the body absorbs folic acid from supplements much better than the folate that occurs naturally in certain foods. What’s worse is folate can be lost through storage or cooking. So if you eat foods rich in folate, consider them a complement to your supplement. Good sources include:
- dried beans, peas, and nuts
- dark green vegetables such as broccoli, spinach, collard or turnip greens, okra, Brussels sprouts, and asparagus
- citrus fruit and juice
If you are deficient in folic acid, it may not be readily apparent. The signs of folic acid deficiency can be subtle. You may have diarrhea, anemia, loss of appetite, and weight loss, as well as weakness, a sore tongue, headaches, heart palpitations, and irritability. If you’re only mildly deficient, you may not notice any symptoms at all, but you won’t be getting the optimal amount for your baby’s early embryonic development. So it’s best to take at least 400 mcg every day for your own health as well as your future offspring.