Folic acid in pregnancy

What is folic acid?

Folic acid is one of the vitamin B forms (vitamin B9). Folic acid is also referred as folate. Folate occurs naturally in few foods. Synthetic folic acid refers to manmade folate. Folic acid supplementation is required as all the folic acid needed for growth can’t be obtained through food alone, particularly in pregnancy.

Folic acid in pregnancy

Who must take folic acid?

All people require folic acid but women who are planning a pregnancy especially must ensure enough folic acid intake before the pregnancy.

Folic acid is essential during preconception and pregnancy.

Folic acid supplementation can help in preventing major birth defects like:

  • Spina bifida: In this condition, the spinal column doesn’t close to protect the baby’s spinal cord, resulting in lifelong disabilities.
  • Anencephaly: The major part of the brain’s development doesn’t happen.

Folic acid supplementation may prevent the incidence of other birth defects as well. Folic acid also keeps the blood healthy.

How much folic acid do I need?

Physicians recommend 400 micrograms (mcg) to 800 mcg of folic acid for women planning to conceive or even when they are not planning a pregnancy. Generalised recommendations for folic acid intake per day in specific scenarios include:

  • During preconception and pregnancy: 400 mcg to 800 mcg
  • Breastfeeding women: 500 mcg
  • An earlier baby with birth defects: as high as 4000 mcg of folic acid. To primarily lower the risk of birth defects in the forthcoming baby.

One must discuss their medical history and current illnesses if any with their physician, based on which they will be prescribed even higher doses of folic acid.

How do I ensure I get ample folic acid daily?

Daily intake of the vitamin pills provides adequate folic acid. Nowadays, even syrups and chewable forms of folic acid are available. If you are on prenatal vitamins, probably you are getting ample folic acid already. Check the folic acid bottle’s expiry date and do not buy bottles that do not list the expiry date.

What are the foods rich in folic acid?

Folic acid is found in leafy, dark green vegetables, whole grains, citrus fruit and other foods like:

    • Lentils
    • Spinach
    • Broccoli
    • Asparagus
    • Chickpeas
    • Corn
    • Peas
    • Oranges

Folic acid is also added to foods like breakfast cereals and bread. Check their label to see the amount of folic acid fortification.

Folic acid in pregnancy

Can I get enough folic acid through food alone?

It will be difficult to know whether the natural sources of folic acid are adequate or not. In addition, natural folate may not be utilised as efficiently as synthetic folic acid. Hence, supplemental vitamin intake is better.

Consult a top Gynaecologist

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  • Folic acid: for preconception and pregnancy. The Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada. Accessed 16 Mar. 16. http://sogc.org/publications/folic-acid-for-preconception-and-pregnancy/
  • Frequently asked Questions: Folic Acid. Womenshealth. Accessed 16 Mar. 16. http://womenshealth.gov/publications/our-publications/fact-sheet/folic-acid.pdf
  • WHO. Guideline: Daily iron and folic acid supplementation in pregnant women. Geneva, World Health Organization, 2012. Accessed 16 Mar. 16. http://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/10665/77770/1/9789241501996_eng.pdf
  • Why do I need folic acid in pregnancy? NHS Choices. Accessed 16 Mar. 16. http://www.nhs.uk/chq/pages/913.aspx?categoryid=54

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