When you become pregnant, your nutritional needs change significantly, and getting enough folic acid during pregnancy is important. Supporting the wellness needs of two people, rather than one, can be a major strain on the body, but with proper planning, dietary consciousness, and the long-term goal of a healthy child and mother, it should be easy to get enough folic acid over the course of your pregnancy.
What is Folic Acid?
Folic acid is the name for a synthetic form of a B-soluble vitamin – vitamin B9. The name for the natural form of this vitamin is folate. You will find that many foods have folic acids added to them, such as dietary supplements or specially fortified foods. Some of the most common sources of folic acid are cereals, bakery items, bread, portions of pasta, and crackers, which is a government regulation to ensure that people get enough of this critical nutrient. There are also many different foods that contain naturally high levels of this B vitamin, so maintaining an appropriate level isn’t a problem for many people.
In terms of the effects of folic acid in a normal diet, it can help digestive health, nutrient uptake, liver and kidney disease. Some other studies have found that folic acid can reduce the level of homocysteine in the body, and protect cardiovascular health. As a B vitamin, folic acid is closely related to metabolic processes in the body, and proper levels can also help to increase cognition, eliminate stress and anxiety, soothe the nervous system and slow down signs of premature aging.
Why Do You Need Folic Acid During Pregnancy?
Pregnant women need to ensure that their folic acid intake is appropriately high because it can help reduce neural tube defects, lower the risk of miscarriage, prevent preeclampsia and speed the growth of the placenta, among other things.
There is a correlation between folate deficiency and the risk of miscarriage. When a fetus doesn’t develop properly, which it cannot do without proper levels of folic acid, it is far more likely that the result will be the woman losing the baby.
Neural Tube Defects
Neural tube defects are serious defects that affect the spinal cord, namely when the back doesn’t close properly to enclose the spinal cord. The most common of these is called spina bifida, but there are other possible neural tube defects (NTD) that proper levels of folic acid can prevent.
If the placenta doesn’t grow properly, it can affect the transfer of nutrients from the mother to the fetus, resulting in nutrient deficiency and a number of other potential problems. Proper intake of folic acid during pregnancy can ensure that the placenta develops at the right rate. Folic acid during pregnancy is also required for the production and functioning of our DNA, which is the blueprint for all of our development.
If you consume enough folic acid during pregnancy, you can lower your risk of preeclampsia, which is a condition that involves heightened blood pressure, protein in the urine, and a direct threat to the health of your baby. While it is often masked by the symptoms of hypertension, preeclampsia can be dangerous for both the mother and the baby.
How Much Folic Acid Do You Need?
If you are an adult male, you need approximately 400 micrograms of folate per day, whereas women over the age of 13 require 400-600 micrograms per day. When you are pregnant, that number may jump to 600-800 micrograms per day, which can ensure that your baby will be healthy and develop normally. Following birth, breastfeeding mothers should still increase their amount to approximately 500 micrograms each day.
Certain studies have concluded that low levels of folic acid throughout your pregnancy leads to a higher risk of your baby being born with autism. However, it has also been found that an excessive amount of folic acid in the body is also associated with high autism risk. That is why being aware of your dietary sources as well as supplement concentrations is important.
How Long Should You Take Folic Acid?
Many pregnant women are aware of the benefits of folic acid, and the effect that it can have on their pregnancy, so taking a dietary supplement for this vitamin seems like a natural and obvious choice. Unfortunately, many women don’t know that taking folic acid before you get pregnant is also important. By adjusting your body’s level of folic acid up to one month before you get pregnant can also dramatically decrease the risk of birth defects for your infant.
In most cases, a single 400-microgram supplement is enough for pregnant women, as this will complement their dietary sources of folate. These supplements can be taken daily from one month before pregnancy up to 1 year after pregnancy, depending on how long you breastfeed. Once your child moves into a more balanced diet and consumes his/her own folate in food, women can bring their folic acid levels back down to a more normal 200-400 micrograms per day.
Some specialists have recommended that folic acid supplements only be taken through the first 12 weeks of pregnancy when most of the key development of the spinal cord occurs, but other doctors suggest simply taking folic acid supplements throughout your term.
Dietary Sources of Folic Acid
- Fruits and fruit juices: Citrus fruits are excellent sources of folate, with more than 30 micrograms in a 1-cup serving of orange juice.
- Spinach: This cruciferous vegetable contains over 200 micrograms of folate in a 2-cup serving.
- Eggs: There are 44 micrograms of folate in a 100-gram serving of eggs.
- Beans: Beans offer more than 250 micrograms of folate in a single cup.
- Nuts: Hazelnuts provide more than 20% of your recommended folate; walnuts and almonds are also great sources of this vitamin.
- Peas: A 1-cup serving of peas contains more than 90 micrograms of folate – nearly 25% of your daily requirement for adult men.