Pregnancy is a crucial time for a lady. It is this one thing that she looks forward to. It comes with a lot of excitement and precautions as well. Just like many other nutrients, folic acid has its own place. It is interesting to study the importance of folic acid in pregnancy. Folic acid is the vitamin B component that is found in foods as well as supplements. When its occurrence is in foods, it is termed as folate or else folic acids in supplements. Folate is important for the body, specifically before and even during pregnancy and folic acid is the factor for proper growth as well as development.
What Is Folic Acid?
Folic Acid which plays a key role in pregnancy is a man-made form of vitamin B also known as folate. Folate produces red blood cells and even helps in the proper growth and development of the neural tube in the brain as well as the spinal cord. Food sources best for folic acids are fortified cereals. Folate is even found in citrus fruits and dark green vegetables as well.
9 Facts To Summarize The Importance Of Folic Acid In Pregnancy
A synthetic form of folate is folic acid. It is added to many products by food manufacturers as it does not occur in a natural way. Items like pasta, bread, rice, and breakfast cereals have added folic acid. Now let us study the facts that focus on the importance of folic acid in pregnancy or the benefits of folic acid during pregnancy. Some of them are listed as under:
1. Prevents neural tube defects
Taking folic acid helps with the neural development of the fetus which later grows into the spinal cord and the brain of the baby. Folic acid also prevents prenatal defects in the initial days of the formation of the central nervous system. It can prevent a spinal malformation called spina bifida and brain damage as well1.
Related Reading: 12 Best Foods For Baby Brain Development
2. Production of red blood cells
Insufficient folate levels lead to large, poorly formed red blood cells. Macrocytic anemia, also known as vitamin-deficient anemia, is the result. Folate ensures that red blood cells are produced in the proper quantities, thereby maintaining healthy blood flow for expectant mothers and their babies. Since anemia is very common in pregnancy, folic acid ensures the level is intact2.
3. Protection from complications
Pregnant women need more folate because the baby in the womb also needs it to grow and develop. In addition to increasing the risk of anemia and peripheral neuropathy in expecting mothers, folate deficiency has been associated with birth defects in babies as well. Folic acid helps to overcome the common complications during pregnancy & as well as delivery3.
4. Protection for the expectant mom
Folic acid also plays an important role in gut health and also helps to boost immunity during pregnancy4. Proper intake of folic acid regularly during pregnancy helps in preventing preeclampsia, Alzheimer’s disease, etc5.
5. Other functions
This nutrient plays an essential role in tissue growth and cell function. In addition to that, it breaks down and creates new proteins in conjunction with vitamins B12, B6, and C. Folic acid is needed for the repair, production, and functioning of DNA. It is also vital for the growth of the placenta and the developing fetus6.
6. Prevents miscarriage
Studies state that a folic acid deficiency can lead to less chances of becoming pregnant or staying pregnant as well. The likelihood of early miscarriage is higher in pregnant women with low levels of folate in their blood than in pregnant women with adequate levels, making it one of the most common causes of miscarriage.
7. Gestational diabetes
Pregnancy-related diabetes can be reduced by taking a folic acid supplement daily7. Of course, it has to be clubbed with exercise and dietary changes.
Related Reading: 8 Benefits Of Exercising During Pregnancy
8. Congenital heart defects
Congenital heart defects (CHD) are among the most common birth defects among newborn. According to a study, about 4 to 10 of 1,000 live births will have a CHD. Insufficient folic intake is the major cause of this. If folic intake is not regular in pregnancy, it can lead to the incorrect formation of blood vessels, holes in the heart wall, and narrow valves8.
9. Reduce the risk of cleft lip and palette
When mothers do not take folic acid during the first three months of pregnancy, the risk of developing a cleft lip or palate is more than four times higher9. Adequate intake of folic acid can result in preventing the mouth defect which can lead to the incorrect formation of the lip while opening it.
When Should A Pregnant Women Start Taking Folic Acid?
A pregnant woman certainly needs folic acid, and it is a superfood for pregnancy. However, one thing that bothers her is whether “folic acid tablets before pregnancy is a good idea”? Doctors advise prenatal vitamins with folic acid. Research states that women taking folic acid for a year prior to pregnancy lowers the chances of premature delivery by 50%.
Birth defects happen in the initial weeks of pregnancy which is 3-4 weeks. This is a very crucial time for the mother as well as the baby. Having folic acid during pregnancy prevents spinal cord malformations and brain defects as well.
Doctors suggest taking prenatal vitamins and recommend 400 micrograms (mcg) of folic acid before and even during pregnancy on a regular basis to avoid complications, defects, and anomalies. It is also advisable to have fortified cereal with it.
How Much Folic Acid Should I Take?
The recommended dose for all pregnant women is 400 (mcg) of folic acid daily. If taking multivitamins, one should ensure that it has the required dosage. If not willing to take multivitamins, folic acid supplements can be taken as well10.
The recommended dose of folic acid on daily basis in pregnancy is:
- When trying to conceive: 400 mcg
- For the first trimester: 400 mcg
- For second and third trimester: 600 mcg
- At the time of breastfeeding: 500 mcg
Apart from the recommended dosage of folic acid during pregnancy, it can also be taken through some good food sources. The table below shows how foods can also help in getting more folic acid in the diet.
400 mcg: Breakfast cereals fortified with 100% of the DV, 3/4 cup
215 mcg: Beef liver, cooked, braised, 3 oz
179 mcg: Lentils, mature seeds, cooked, boiled, 1/2 cup
115 mcg: Spinach, frozen, cooked, boiled, 1/2 cup
110 mcg: Egg noodles, enriched, cooked, 1/2 cup
100 mcg: Breakfast cereals, fortified with 25% of the DV, 3/4 cup
90 mcg: Great Northern beans, boiled, 1/2 cup
What Foods Are High In Folic Acid?
Folic Acid is important and can be taken in tablet form or can even be taken in fortified cereals or through intake of certain foods. Some of them are:
- Leafy green vegetables, such as spinach
- Citrus fruits, such as orange juice
Related Reading: Spirulina During Pregnancy – Is It Safe
What Happens If You Don’t Take Folic Acid During Pregnancy?
If enough folic acid is not taken during pregnancy the baby has a higher risk of having neural tube defects. The neural tube defects can be very severe as they can affect the spinal cord, brain and can be fatal as well.
If folic acid is deficient in the body, one can have anemia. If one does not have enough red blood cells, one can feel weak and tired. Thus, it is important to get an adequate dosage of folic acid daily. It can also be taken from the food that they eat.
Folic acid has should be high four weeks post conception. So, it is not advised to wait till the pregnancy test shows positive. Women potentially getting pregnant need folic acid, not the only ones who are trying to conceive.
Side Effects of Folic Acid
Even though folic acid is a superfood for pregnancy taking too much folic acid during pregnancy is risky and can have side effects as11.
- Nausea, loss of appetite
- Bloating, gas
- Bitter or unpleasant taste in your mouth
- Sleep problems
- Feeling excited or irritable
Related Reading: 9 Early Warning Signs Of Postpartum Depression To Watch Out For
When Should You Stop Taking Folic Acid?
Folic acid can be stopped at 12 weeks of pregnancy as the baby’s spine is developed at that time. However, it can even be continued since it causes no harm to the baby.
Thus, folic acid is vital for becoming pregnant and also for the development of the fetus during pregnancy. It is also important to be cautious for avoiding excessive vitamin intake. Doctors suggest taking vitamins from natural food sources than supplements. Talking to a nutritionist can help in formulating a diet plan for supplementing the body with required nutrients.
Folate and folic acid are two different distinct compounds with few differences in function.
Folic acid is the synthetic form of folate, whereas folate is found naturally in many foods and is not synthetic. Folate can be found in green leafy vegetables like broccoli, asparagus etc., and it is vital for the growth of healthy cells and the creation of DNA.
Thus, it is mandatory to have an adequate amount of folate during pregnancy and it is also an important component of prenatal vitamins as well.
If folic acid supplements are taken, they offer protection against neural tube defects in newborn babies. This is also the reason why it is mandatory for it to be added to processed foods.
Studies show that naturally occurring folate is a healthy option when compared to supplements.
Whether it is folate, folic acid, and folinic acid are all different forms of vitamin B9. Even though they are not exactly the same yet have the same purpose.
The natural form of vitamin B9 is Folate whereas folic acid is the synthetic version of Vitamin B.