Though folic acid is essential for everyone at every age, it is most important especially for women at the time of conception. Women who are pregnant or who are planning to get pregnant are often recommended to take folic acid supplement or prenatal vitamins that contain folic acid. As folic acid plays a key role in the development of the fetus, it is referred as a super vitamin during pregnancy. Before knowing about the benefits of folic acid during pregnancy, let us get some quick points about folic acid.
What is folic acid?
Folic acid is the synthetic form of folate and is one among the B-vitamins. It plays a key role in the cell production and division as well. It is also essential for many bodily functions including the production of red blood cells.
Why do pregnant women need folic acid?
Folic acid protects the fetus from developing neural tube defects and may also prevent other birth defects. It also helps the mother to form healthy red blood cells. If a pregnant woman doesn’t get enough folic acid, it may lead to anemia. Besides these, folic acid is beneficial in many ways. So, every pregnant woman should get enough folic acid during her pregnancy.
What are the natural sources of folic acid?
Folic acid is present in some foods in its natural form folate which include:
- Green leafy vegetables
- Brown rice
- Breakfast cereals
- Enriched bread and other grain products
How much folic acid is needed during pregnancy?
Women who are trying to conceive should get 400mcg per day. And the requirement of folic acid changes during pregnancy. The recommended daily intake of folic acid is mentioned below in terms of pregnancy.
- During the first trimester: 400 mcg
- During second & third trimester: 600 mcg
- While breastfeeding: 500 mcg
What is the right time to start taking folic acid?
Most birth defects occur within the first few weeks of pregnancy. So, to protect the fetus from developing birth defects, women who are planning to conceive should start taking folic acid supplements and women who already are pregnant should continue the supplements on doctor’s advice without fail.
How is folic acid beneficial during pregnancy?
As said earlier, folic acid is beneficial during pregnancy for both mother and unborn baby in many ways. The top benefits of folic acid during pregnancy include:
Reduces the mother’s risk of anemia:
During pregnancy, women need more folic acid than normal as cells multiply at a faster rate. The amount of folic acid present in the woman’s body decreases as the fetus grows. This can lead to maternal anemia which, in turn, affects the development of the unborn baby. So, taking folic acid supplements helps with the extra requirement during pregnancy.
Prevents birth defects:
Folic acid deficiency has been linked to birth defects such as spine and brain defects. Other defects include cleft lip & palate, heart defects. Hence, getting enough folic acid helps to prevent possible birth defects.
Decreases the chances of miscarriage and premature births:
Women who don’t get enough folic acid during their pregnancy, have a higher risk of miscarriage or premature birth. The recommended intake of folic acid helps to prevent miscarriage, poor baby growth and also low birth weight issues.
Promotes growth of placenta:
The placenta plays a crucial role in the pregnancy. It helps the nutrients transfer from the mother to the fetus. If it doesn’t grow properly, the fetus cannot get the required nutrition which results in nutrition deficiency and leads to other potential risks. Proper intake of folic acid during pregnancy ensures the right development of the placenta and also helps in the production, the functioning of DNA.
Lowers the risk of preeclampsia:
Preeclampsia is a condition that occurs in pregnant women. It involves high blood pressure, loss of protein in urine and swelling of hands, legs, and feet. Preeclampsia can be a direct threat to the developing baby and can be dangerous for both the mother and baby as well. Consuming enough folic acid during pregnancy reduces the women’s risk of developing preeclampsia.
Prevents neural tube defects:
Neural tube defects are the birth defects of the brain and spinal cord. They often develop during the first 4 weeks of pregnancy which means neural defects may occur by the time pregnancy is confirmed. In case of folic acid deficiency, the baby’s neural tube may not close correctly and leads to health risks. Proper consumption of folic acid during pregnancy promotes healthy fetal development and prevents neural tube defects.
It is known that mood swings are common during pregnancy. Low levels of folic acid make mood swings worse and lead to depression. Hence, optimum levels of folic acid can help with the mood swings and therefore prevents depression.
Avoids pregnancy complications:
Folic acid deficiency has been linked to pregnancy complications. Getting the right amount of folic acid every day can prevent pregnancy complications like preeclampsia, cancers, Alzheimer’s, stroke and heart diseases. Hence, pregnant women who consume folic acid need not be afraid of pregnancy complications.