Pregnant women should always take special care of themselves because that way they are assuring that their baby will be in good health and that his or her development, both physical and mental, will be complete and adequate. A well-balanced diet is, of course, essential, along with some moderate lifestyle changes, but it is also important to know that pregnant women need to take certain supplements, especially folic acid.
What is folic acid?
Folic acid or folate is one of the vitamins of the B group. It is necessary for the production of new cells in human body. It can be found in vegetables such as spinach, green beans, potatoes, sprouts, and broccoli. Some types of bread and cereals are fortified with folate.
However, the human body does not store much folic acid, and not for long, so its levels need to be restored with supplements.
Folic acid supplements in pregnancy
Most doctors today recommend to pregnant women to take folic acid supplements. Ideally, they should start taking them even before getting pregnant, but if the pregnancy comes as a surprise, it is important to start taking folic acid as soon as possible.
This is very important because the fetus needs steady supply of this vitamin in order to develop properly. This especially refers to proper spinal cord development. Insufficient levels of folic acid during pregnancy can lead to serious deformities for the baby, the most common being spina bifida. Other complications that may result include cleft lip or cleft palate, heart problems and premature labor.
According to one study, taking these supplements one year before getting pregnant greatly reduces the risk of premature birth. This is why some experts recommend folic acid supplements to all the women of childbearing age.
The recommended dose for most healthy women is 400 micrograms of folic acid per day. However, some women need to take higher doses, in order to be extra safe. This goes for women who have a higher risk of having a baby with spina bifida, like those who already have children with this problem, who have had spinal problems themselves, if the child’s father have had spinal problems, or women who have diseases and conditions such as epilepsy, diabetes, celiac disease, sickle cell anaemia, or thalassaemia.
Folic acid is available as a supplement in drugstores and pharmacies both as over-the-counter product and on prescription. Some countries started fortifying staple foods like flour and rice with folic acid, so that more people can benefit from it.