For many people pregnancy just happens. However, there are necessary health concerns that should be considered before a mother becomes pregnant. This ensures a healthy mother before, during and after the pregnancy. It also ensures normal fetus development. Taking a folic acid rich diet or supplements is one such consideration that all mothers should take into account. What are the other health benefits of taking folic acid before pregnancy? Before that what is folic acid?
Folic acid is one of the many types of vitamins in the Vitamin B group. It is a water soluble vitamin. Like other water soluble vitamins, the body cannot build reserves of the vitamin and so it has to be taken regularly. In contrast the body can stock fat soluble vitamins to be used later.
A recent study of over 11,000 women discovered that over 50% of the ladies who were trying to conceive were NOT taking a folic accident supplement. This news was both shocking and surprising.
When you are setting out of the journey of parenthood, it is vital to be folic acid aware. In this blog post we will look at the reasons why you should be taking folic accidents supplements if you a woman who is trying to conceive (TTC) We will let you know why you should be taking this vitamin and how much you should be taking. Most importantly, thought, we will look at just WHEN you need to start taking this important supplement when your are looking to get pregnant.
Read on to find out all you will need to know about folic acid, you may be surprised by some of the facts that we will reveal!
1. How Much Folic Acid Is the Right Amount Per Day?
If you are trying for a baby, the UK’s Department of Health recommends that you take a daily supplement containing 400μg of folic acid.
2. Why Is Folic Acid so Important When Trying to Conceive?
Folic acid is vital for any mum-tube as it helps to lower the he risk of NTDs (Neural Tube Defects) such as Spina Bifida, in the foetus. If the unborn spine and brain fail to form correctly,, these NTDs occur and cause irreparable damage to the nervous system and spinal cord. Vitamin B9, more commonly known as folic acid, can help stop the complex conditions from occurring.Folic acid or folate or Vitamin B9 has many health benefits that prepare a woman for pregnancy. These include:
- Support production of new cells.
- Prevents abnormal changes in the DNA.
- Helps to correct certain types of anemia.
- Supports the nervous system health.
A woman who has a deficiency of folic acid is at risk of developing health problems and in case she gets pregnant, she will expose her unborn baby to serious health conditions. Deficiency can lead to miscarriage and if the pregnancy goes to term then disorders of the brain-spinal cord system can occur. They are collectively called Neural Tube Defects. This is a poorly developed brain-spinal cord system. The commonest types of neural-tube defects are:
- Spina bifida. This is a defect in the spinal vertebrae that exposes the spinal cord and nerves. This can lead to spinal cord and nerve injury. Infection of the spinal cord can also occur with serious consequences.
- Meningocele is a more serious type of spina bifida where the defect is much bigger and the spinal cord fluid is herniating (protruding) at the back.
- Myelomeningocele is the most serious type of spina bifida where the defect is big and allows both the spinal cord and the fluid to herniate at the back.
- Anencephaly is the absence or rudimentary development of the brain.
- Encephalocele occurs when there is a defect on the skull and the brain tissue protrudes outside.
A defect on the brain or the spinal column leads to other problems like paralysis and deformity of the lower limbs. There may also be disorders of bowel and bladder control. These serious defects can be prevented by taking a diet rich in folic acid or supplementing with folate tablets.
3. The First 28 Days of Pregnancy Are Vital
NTDs will take place within the first four weeks of pregnancy. A large number of women will not realise that they are pregnant at this stage, that is why the time that you first start to take folic acid is so important.
4. So When Should You First Start Taking Folic Acid?
Although folate should be part of everyday nutritional needs, a woman planning to be pregnant should make sure that she makes a conscious effort to take enough of it before she plans to get pregnant. She should enhance intake of folate rich foods like dry legumes including beans, peas and lentils. Broccoli, kale, spinach and other green and leafy vegetables are also good sources. Fruits of the citrus family like oranges also contain the vitamin.
The NHS recommends that all women who are trying for a baby should take a supplement of 400 micrograms of folic acid each day. This should be taken from before you are pregnant until you are 12 weeks pregnant. Folate supplements are cheap and effective and many doctors recommend supplementation with up to 5mg per day. Doses may vary depending on existing deficiency or other health conditions like epilepsy.
Taking folic acid before pregnancy will make sure that the critical embryo growth in the first days are normal and will result in a healthy baby without the problems we have discussed above.
5. Vitamin B12 Can Also Help Prevent NTDs
Research shows that when you take vitamin B12 alongside folic acid, it may well be more effective in preventing NTDs than just taking daily folic acid on its own.
A vitamin B12 deficiency can lead to a wide array of health issues, from tiredness and headaches to nerve damage and anaemia. Additionally, research has shown that low levels of vitamin B12 can increase a pregnant woman’s risk of having a baby with an NTD.
In a study conducted by the University of Liverpool, researchers analysed 1,262 cases of pregnancies with anencephaly, a type of NTD, and compared them to 4,653 pregnancies with no NTD. They found that pregnant women with lower levels of vitamin B12 were more likely to have a baby with an NTD.
The study also showed that supplementing with vitamin B12 prior to becoming pregnant significantly reduced the risk of having a baby with an NTD. They recommend that women of childbearing age take steps such as supplementing with B12 vitamin and eating foods that are rich in B12, such as fish, eggs, and fortified cereals.
6. Prenatal Supplements Can Help Prevent NTDs
Prenatal supplements have been designed to offer a wide range of the vitamins and nutrients that any woman may need in the run up to pregnancy. contains both folic acid and vitamin B12. This supplement is designed to be taken before you get pregnant and contains the exact amount of folic acid the the UK department of health recommends at pre-conception stage (400mcg).
Supplements such as Pregnacare Conception re designed to provide advanced nutritional support for women who are actively trying to get pregnant. They also included vitamin D and zinc, both of which have been proven by research to help support normal reproduction and fertility.
7. Can You Get the Folic Acid You Need Through Food?
There are many natural sources of folic acid and some women may be tempted to try and make sure they eat well to take on board lots of folic acid through food. Certainly, wholemeal bread, leafy green vegetables, cereals, tinned salmon and Brussels sprouts all contain high levels of folic acid. However, eating enough of these foods to get the right amount of folic acid is difficult.
In some countries, bread and flour are artificially fortified with folic acid. However this does not happen in the Uk ,which is why it is important that you take a folic acid supplement if you are actively trying to get pregnant.
8. What Else Can Be Done?
As well as taking folic acid, it is important that all women eat a well-balanced diet, before conception and during pregnancy. Your meal times should be rich in natural folates, including bread and cereals, to help protect the body against the risk of NTDs.
9. What If I’m Pregnant Already?
Firstly, congratulations! Secondly, if you didn’t take folic acid or prenatal supplements before conception, it’s not too late. Start taking folic acid supplements as soon as you realise that you are pregnant.
This post first appeared in July 2013 and has been regularly updated since