College of DuPage Nursing Student Katlyn Hanson researched for Healthy Lombard that folic acid is a B vitamin that is crucial for our body to make new red blood cells, and therefore, for the body to grow and function normally. Folic acid is essential before and during pregnancy in order to help prevent major birth defects such as spina bifida. According to the Mayo Clinic (2021), research demonstrates folic acid supplements can prevent birth defects involving the neural tube. Taking a daily prenatal vitamin can help ensure women are getting enough of this essential nutrient. (Mayo Clinic, 2021)
When should you start taking folic acid, and how much should you consume?
The Mayo Clinic (2021) recommends taking folic acid three months before conception. Adult women who are planning a pregnancy or who have the potential to become pregnant should consume 400 to 800 micrograms of folic acid a day (Mayo Clinic 2021). A well-balanced diet is necessary to meet these recommendations. This is achievable by eating fortified foods, vitamins that contain folic acid, or a combination of diet and vitamin supplements.
Foods High in Folic Acid
There are many foods that contain folic acid, especially if you maintain a well-balanced diet. Folic acid can be found in dark green leafy vegetables, beans, peas, nuts, cereals, and even pasta. There are also many types of fruits rich in folic acid such as oranges, lemons, and bananas. If the diet lacks folic acid-rich foods, a folic acid deficiency will result (Mayo Clinic, 2021), however, incorporating the necessary amount in the diet supports a healthy pregnancy.
Folic acid in pregnancies already affected by neural defects
In the event a pregnancy has already occurred in which there was a neural tube defect, the mother should consult with the health care provider before the next pregnancy to confirm the specific amount of folic acid necessary. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2021), 4,000 mcg of folic acid each day for one month is recommended for these individuals before becoming pregnant again, and throughout the first three months of pregnancy. More folic acid that this amount requires a recommendation from the physician due to other health-related concerns
Why does folic acid play such a key role in breastfeeding?
Although folic acid provides incredible benefits to babies in utero (inside the womb), what are the benefits that it provides to babies outside the womb? Folic acid provides nourishment to an infant through the mother’s breast milk. It continues to boost breast milk with vitamin B to not only help the mother, but also the baby. Increased folic acid throughout childhood has been linked to healthy brain development so it is important that you have enough folic acid while breastfeeding (MotherToBaby 2021).
Folic acid is extremely important for women who are trying to get pregnant or are indeed pregnant in order to prevent neural defects in the baby. Folic acid is a nutrient in several types of food and is also available as a supplement, so it is relatively easy to obtain an adequate amount during pregnancy and in the postpartum stage. To know the correct amount for mother and baby, it is best to consult with a health care provider for instructions that are individualized and consider the needs of everyone involved.