Pregnancy is a time when a woman’s body goes through significant changes. As an expectant mum, you want to ensure that your baby is healthy and that you are providing the best possible start in life. One essential nutrient that plays a vital role in this is folic acid. In this article, let’s look at why folic acid is important during pregnancy, how to ensure that you are getting enough of it, and the benefits of taking folic acid supplements.
Why is Folic Acid Important During Pregnancy?
Folic acid, also known as folate, is a B-vitamin that is essential for many bodily functions, including the production of DNA and RNA. During pregnancy, folic acid plays a crucial role in the development of the neural tube, which is the structure that develops into the baby’s brain and spinal cord.
Research has shown that taking folic acid before and during pregnancy can significantly reduce the risk of neural tube defects (NTDs) in the baby. NTDs are serious birth defects that can affect the baby’s brain, spine, and other vital organs. The most common NTD is spina bifida, a condition where the baby’s spine does not develop correctly, leading to lifelong disabilities.
According to the NHS, taking a daily supplement containing 400 micrograms (mcg) of folic acid can significantly reduce the risk of NTDs. It is recommended that women who are planning to become pregnant take a folic acid supplement for at least one month before conception and continue taking it throughout the first trimester.
How Much Folic Acid Do Pregnant Women Need?
The recommended amount of folic acid for pregnant women is 400 mcg per day. However, it is important to note that most women do not get enough folic acid from their diet alone. That is why taking a daily folic acid supplement is recommended for all women who are pregnant or planning to become pregnant.
It is also important to note that some women may require a higher dose of folic acid. This includes women who have had a previous pregnancy affected by an NTD, those with a family history of NTDs, and women who are taking certain medications that can affect folate absorption.
How Can Pregnant Women Ensure They are Getting Enough Folic Acid?
Folic acid is found naturally in many foods, including leafy green vegetables, citrus fruits, and beans. However, it can be difficult to get enough folate from diet alone, especially during pregnancy when the body’s demands are higher.
Taking a daily folic acid supplement is the easiest and most effective way to ensure that you are getting enough folate. Folic acid supplements are widely available over the counter in pharmacies and supermarkets, and they are safe to take during pregnancy.
When choosing a folic acid supplement, it is essential to check the label to ensure that it contains 400 mcg of folic acid. Some pregnancy multivitamins may also contain folic acid, but it is important to check that they contain the correct amount.
It is important to start taking folic acid supplements as soon as you start planning to conceive, as the neural tube develops very early in pregnancy. However, if you did not start taking folic acid before conception, it is still beneficial to start taking it as soon as possible.
Are There any Risks to Taking Folic Acid Supplements During Pregnancy?
Folic acid supplements are generally considered safe to take during pregnancy, and there are no known risks associated with taking the recommended dose. However, taking too much folic acid can be harmful, so it is important to stick to the recommended dose of 400 mcg per day.
Some women may experience side effects from taking folic acid supplements, such as nausea or stomach upset. If you experience any side effects, speak to your
doctor or midwife, who may be able to suggest alternative supplements or ways to reduce the side effects.
It is also important to note that folic acid supplements are not a substitute for a healthy diet. Pregnant women should still aim to eat a balanced diet that includes plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein, and healthy fats.
An essential nutrient
Folic acid is an essential nutrient for pregnant women, and taking a daily supplement can significantly reduce the risk of NTDs in the baby. It is recommended that women who are planning to become pregnant take a folic acid supplement for at least one month before conception and continue taking it throughout the first trimester.
It is essential to check the label to ensure that the supplement contains 400 mcg of folic acid and to start taking it as soon as you start planning to conceive. While folic acid supplements are generally considered safe, it is important to speak to your doctor or midwife if you experience any side effects.
Eating a healthy diet that includes plenty of folate-rich foods is also essential during pregnancy, but taking a folic acid supplement can help ensure that you are getting enough of this vital nutrient. By taking care of your own health and nutrition during pregnancy, you are giving your baby the best possible start in life.
Also check out:
- NHS. (2021). Vitamins, supplements and nutrition in pregnancy. Retrieved from https://www.nhs.uk/pregnancy/keeping-well/vitamins-supplements-and-nutrition/
- Office of Dietary Supplements. (2021). Folate. Retrieved from https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Folate-HealthProfessional/
- American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. (2018). Practice Bulletin No. 187: Neural Tube Defects. Obstetrics and Gynecology, 131(1), e32-e42.
- Pfeiffer, C. M., Sternberg, M. R., Zhang, M., Fazili, Z., & Yetley, E. A. (2016). Lactation Folate Intakes in a Sample of U.S. Women Exceed Dietary Reference Intakes. Nutrients, 8(12), 767.