Health Education

Why Pregnant Women Need to Take Folic Acid

By | February 24, 2016

Vitamin B plays a critical role in proper fetal development and preventing birth defects, but expectant women don’t always get the recommended daily dose.

During a pregnancy, the best way to be sure of a healthy baby is to have a healthy mom — and that starts with getting the right diet. Proper nutrition for mom means proper nutrition for baby, which is essential for proper development. One of the most important things a woman can do for a pregnancy diet is up the intake of B vitamins.

Unfortunately, most women do not get enough through food alone, so they need to improve their levels through other means, like folic acid, according to WebMD. The supplement reduces the risk of a baby being born with serious neural tube defects (NTDs) as the NIH reports.

Folic Acid

A pregnant woman shopping
Fuse/Thinkstock

Folic acid, also known as folate, is a B9 vitamin most commonly found in leafy greens like kale and spinach, as well as orange juice and enriched grains, as Kids Health explains. The NIH explains how it keeps amino acid in the blood at healthy levels, helps prevent anemia, and is necessary for cell development, which is why it’s so crucial during early pregnancy.

NTDs involve an incomplete development of the baby’s spinal cord and brain. Two notable NTDs are spina bifida, an incomplete development of the spinal column and the spinal cord, and anencephaly, a severely underdeveloped brain (which is very rare, but has a dire prognosis), according to another Kids Health article and the CDC. Receiving the proper amount of folic acid has been shown to reduce the risk of NTDs by 50 percent or more, as the journal Pediatrics reports.

According to womenshealth.gov, women should be getting 400 to 800 micrograms of folate every day. This is true not just of women who are not just trying, or already are pregnant, but for any woman who is of childbearing age (men also benefit from folic acid, as it helps prevent anemia). Because only 50 percent of pregnancies are planned and these defects occur in the first 28 days of development — often before a woman even knows she is pregnant — it is paramount that the proper daily amount is met. Significantly, 95 percent of babies born with NTDs have parents with no history of these defects.

But Why?

Mother playing with son
Jupiterimages/Thinkstock

Although doctors and scientists aren’t sure exactly how folic acid prevents NTDs, they do know that it is essential to the development of DNA. Getting enough B9 can be challenging, despite the FDA’s 1998 ruling that it be added to enriched grains found in products like cereals, breads, and pastas. Folate in these foods is not as easily processed by the body as manmade folic acid, and there just may not be enough of it, according to the NIH.

As such, experts recommend women take a vitamin supplement, even in addition to prenatal vitamins (if applicable) which should be continued throughout the pregnancy. Women who are breastfeeding need an additional 100 micrograms and some doctors may suggest prenatal vitamins for the duration of breastfeeding. If a family member has spina bifida or an earlier pregnancy resulted in an NTD, your doctor might prescribe a dose of 4,000 micrograms of folic acid.

Finding the Right Doc

Good healthcare is always important — but it becomes much more essential in fragile conditions like pregnancy to keep both mother and baby safe. Finding the right OB/GYN to help your family through the entire process can seem a daunting task, but it doesn’t have to be.

SingleCare lets members search a giant online database for practitioners that meet a huge range of medical needs. Unlike heavy-handed insurance policies, SingleCare offers pay-as-you-go services with no billing surprises, so if you’re expecting on a budget, you can still receive the best care. After all, when it comes to the health of your baby, it’s not worth any risk. Up your folic acid intake and find the best doctor through SingleCare.

(Main image credit: Umkeherer/Thinkstock)