The Importance of Folic Acid in Pregnancy by Zakia Mance
16 November 2017
We hear a lot about folic acid and its vital role during pregnancy. But do you actually know why it’s so important?
Let's have a look at why you should pay attention to these important nutrients both before and during your pregnancy.
What is folic acid, or folate? What's its role?
You may be most familiar with 'folic acid'. Folic acid is the synthetic version of folate. Folate is naturally occuring in foods we consume, and you can also get it is a natural supplement. Whether you chose folate or folic acid, they are both part of the B complex of vitamins, specifically B9. You can explore the differences between folate and folic acid here.
In pregnancy, folate is essential to the development of the baby's spinal cord and nervous system. It helps to prevent neural tube defects (NTDs). Since the spinal cord and nervous system are amongst the first things to develop in the baby, it's important that women take a daily supplement of folate or folic acid both while trying to conceive and during the first 12 weeks of the pregnancy. It's difficult to get enough folate just from your diet so a supplement is needed, either as folate or folic acid. The human body does not store folate, and because of this, we need to consume it every day to ensure that we have enough in our system.
Deficiency in Folate
A deficiency in folate can increase the likelihood of neural tube defects, such as spina bifida.
Women who have an increased risk of carrying a baby with a neural tube defect are usually advised to take a higher dose of 5 milligrams (5mg) of folate or folic acid each day until they are 12 weeks pregnant. You may have an increased risk if:
- you or your partner have a neural tube defect
- you previously had a pregnancy affected by a neural tube defect
- you or your partner have a family history of neural tube defects
- you have diabetes
In addition, you should consult your GP for advice if you're taking anti-epileptic medication, as you may also need to take a higher dose of folate or folic acid. Your GP or midwife may also recommend additional screening tests during your pregnancy.
Daily recommended dosage
Women are advised to take a daily supplement of 400 micrograms of folate or folic acid while they are trying to conceive and should continue taking this dose for the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, when the baby's spine is developing. However, it is safe to continue taking folate supplements after 12 weeks.
On rare occasions some people find that supplements give them an upset stomach. If you take more than the recommended amount of folate or folic acid by accident it shouldn't cause any problems. Because it is a water-soluble vitamin your body will just naturally excrete any it doesn't need.
Having a good diet helps
As well as your daily supplement, you can also find high amounts of naturally-occuring folate in broccoli, Brussel sprouts, asparagus, peas, chickpeas, brown rice and green leafy vegetables. Other useful sources of folic acid include fortified breakfast cereals, some bread and some fruit, such as oranges and bananas.
Stay healthy, stay happy!
Zakia Mance, Naturopath and Hypnobirthing Practitioner