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Home / Pregnancy

Benefits of folic acid during pregnancy

 Folic acid is a B vitamin with which our bodies make new cells (Photo: Shutterstock)

When you find out that you are pregnant, your doctor will most likely put you on folic acid supplements. Many of us women are simply told that these are good for the development of the baby and we take that at face value. 

However, in commemoration of World Folic Acid Awareness Week which ends today, let’s look at some of the benefits folic acid has on your baby’s development.

What is folic acid?

Folic acid is a B vitamin with which our bodies make new cells. Folic acid is a type of folate that doesn’t occur naturally. The word folate is generally used to describe different types of Vitamin B.

Folic acid can be taken in the form of supplements as well as in fortified foods like bread, pasta, rice, etc.

 Women of reproductive age should take folic acid everyday (Photo: Shutterstock)

Why should women take folic acid?

Folic acid helps in the formation of the neural tube. According to Healthline, 28 days after conception, the neural tube develops into the brain and spinal cord. Thus, when the neural tube fails to develop properly it leads to birth defects like spina bifida, anencephaly and encephalocele. 

Research has also shown that babies who lack sufficient amounts of folic acid during early development may develop congenital heart defects. These occur when the walls of the heart or blood vessels fail to grow as they should before birth and thus impact the heart’s interior walls, arteries, veins and valves.

Cleft lip and palate have also been shown to be as a result of a lack of folic acid during early pregnancy.

 Foods such as broccoli, brussel sprouts, green leafy vegetables contain folate (Photo: Shutterstock)

When should you take folic acid?

According to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), women of reproductive age should take folic acid everyday. This is because of its use in generating new cells whether during pregnancy or not. 

Taking folic acid before pregnancy is important since most women find out that they are pregnant well into their first month when neural tube defects occur. Thus, taking folic acid early helps reduce chances of these defects.

To get the recommended 400mg of folic acid each day, eat foods that are fortified with folic acid, take a vitamin that has folic acid in it as well as ensuring your diet has foods that are rich in folate. Foods such as broccoli, brussel sprouts, green leafy vegetables, chickpeas and kidney beans, liver and fortified breakfast cereals are good sources of naturally occuring folate.

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