Preventing Birth Defects with Pre-pregnancy Folic Acid
Are you thinking of becoming pregnant? If so, your shopping list should contain fortified cereal, beans, peas, and spinach. Why? These foods are natural sources of folate (folic acid), an important B vitamin that prevents birth defects.
Folic acid in pill form
Vitamin B comes in pill form. In fact, most multivitamins contain folic acid. Other natural sources include oranges, orange juice, broccoli, asparagus, and dried peas and beans. But because it’s difficult to eat enough of these foods to get optimal folate benefits, the March of Dimes and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommend that women who could become pregnant take a daily supplement containing 400 micrograms of synthetic folic acid.
When to increase folic acid intake
According to the March of Dimes, you should increase your folic acid intake at least one month before attempting to become pregnant. Timing is key because folic acid can prevent certain birth defects within the first four weeks after conception.
Once you’re pregnant, your doctor will likely encourage an increase of folic acid. Be sure to check with your doctor before you decide to increase your dose—doubling up on a multivitamin could be dangerous.
Even after you bring your new baby home from the hospital, experts say it's a good idea to continue taking folic acid daily. That’s because folic acid is recommended for women of child-bearing age and half of all pregnancies are unplanned.
Why is folic acid important?
Folic acid helps prevent neural tube defects, which cause malformations of the brain and spinal cord and deficiency can lead to conditions such as spina bifida.
For more details about folic acid, visit the March of Dimes.
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