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Folic Acid Needs During Pregnancy

Folic Acid For New Moms

Pregnancy increases a woman’s requirement for dietary nutrition. In particular, pregnant women need extra folic acid (folate), iron and calcium. Many doctors prescribe a prenatal supplement before conception or shortly afterwards in order to help ensure that all the mother’s nutritional needs are met. However, a prenatal supplement does not replace the need for a healthy diet.

Increased Need For Folic Acid For Moms-to-be

Folic acid (folate) is a B vitamin. Our body uses it to make new cells. If a woman does not have enough folic acid in her body in the first month of pregnancy, she has an increased risk of major birth defects (neural tube defects or NTDs) in her baby’s brain and spine. The most common neural tube defect is spina bifida which can lead to incontinence, paralysis, and even mental retardation. Severe folate deficiency can lead to megaloblastic anemia, a condition which typically occurs in the last trimester of pregnancy. If megaloblastic anemia does occur, the mother’s heart, liver and spleen may become enlarged and may threaten the life of the fetus.

When to Take Folic Acid

For best results, folic acid should be taken for one month before pregnancy and during the first three months of pregnancy. Folic acid is most effective during the first 28 days after conception, when most neural tube defects develop. However, many women do not realize they are pregnant until after 28 days has elapsed. Therefore, for optimum baby health, folic acid intake should begin prior to conception.

How Much Folic Acid is Needed

The CDC and the U.S. Public Health Service urge every woman who could become pregnant to get 400 micrograms (400 mcg/ 0.4mg) of synthetic folic acid every day.

Women who have had a child with a spine or skull defect are more likely to give birth to another child with a similar defect. For these women a folic acid dosage of 4 milligrams a day is recommended.

Best Food Sources of Folic Acid

Folic acid is found in some green, leafy vegetables, most berries, nuts, beans, citrus fruits and fortified breakfast cereals.

How to Get Enough Folic Acid When Pregnant

The best way to ensure you get sufficient folic acid is to take a daily multi-vitamin and mineral supplement containing 100 percent of the recommended folic acid allowance. Alternatively, eat a folic-acid fortified breakfast cereal every day. Remember to check the label on the side of the cereal box, and choose a brand that provides 100 percent of the folic acid allowance.

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