What All Expecting Moms Need to Know About Folic Acid
January 19, 2020
Did you know January is Birth Defects Prevention Month? In honor of this, we’ll highlight this nutrient’s important roles during pregnancy. We’ll also explain how taking a daily prenatal vitamin supplement can boost levels of folic acid and help prevent birth defects.1
What is Folic Acid?
Folic acid is a B vitamin that our bodies use to create new cells. It is an important nutrient to take before conception and during pregnancy, as these are times when a woman’s body needs additional help creating new cells. Folic acid is not to be confused with folate, although they are similar and have similar effects. Folate is the naturally occurring form of the nutrient, while folic acid is the synthetic version that is found in supplements and fortified foods such as bread, pasta and some breakfast cereals.2
Benefits of Folic Acid During Preconception and Early Pregnancy
Folic acid helps form the neural tube during the early stages of fetal development. The neural tube is a hollow structure from which the brain and spinal cord eventually form. Studies have shown that folic acid is very important because it may help prevent major birth defects that affect a baby’s brain and spine.2
Folic acid is not only an important nutrient for women to take during pregnancy, but also can help fetal development when taken before conception. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that women of child-bearing age should consume 400 mcg of folic acid per day, along with foods from a varied diet that contain folate, whether they plan to conceive or not. There are two main reasons behind the CDC’s recommendation: first, about half of all pregnancies in the United States are unplanned, which means that women who are of reproductive age should ensure they are getting enough folic acid in the event of an unplanned pregnancy. Additionally, neural tube defects typically occur during the very early stages of pregnancy (three to four weeks after conception), before most women know they are pregnant.2
Role of Folic Acid in Preventing Birth Defects
Neural tube defects are very serious birth defects that affect an unborn baby’s spine and brain. The two most common neural tube defects are spina bifida, which is a defect of the spinal cord, and anencephaly, a brain defect. In both defects, the neural tube does not close properly.3 Folic acid helps the body generate new cells, which aids in the proper closure of the neural tube.
Because the neural tube closes during the early stages of pregnancy, waiting until the first prenatal visit (usually during the sixth or 12th week of pregnancy) to begin taking folic acid may not help prevent neural tube birth defects. This is why the CDC recommends taking folic acid before conception.2
Talking to Your Doctor About Prenatal Vitamins
Women of reproductive age should consume folate through a varied and balanced diet and talk to a doctor or nutritionist about taking a prenatal vitamin containing folic acid. Be aware that nutritional needs can differ from individual to individual, and it may be more important for some women to increase their folic acid intake than others. The Prenate® Vitamin Family line of prenatal vitamins offers a varied selection of daily prescription prenatal vitamins to help meet the changing nutritional needs of adult women who are pregnant or planning to conceive. Ask your doctor about taking a daily Prenate® vitamin today.