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Should All Women Be Taking Folic Acid?

MD - Obstetrtics & Gynaecology, MBBS
Gynaecologist, Mumbai  •  36 years experience
Should All Women Be Taking Folic Acid?

Folic acid is an important form of vitamin B which women must take during pregnancy. It is a form of man-made vitamin B known as folate. Folate plays a significant role in producing red blood cells and helps in the development of your baby’s neural tube into the brain and spinal cord, preventing any kind of birth defects in babies. Birth defects of the brain or spinal cord may occur in early stages of pregnancy. Therefore, by the time a woman discovers her pregnancy, it may become too late to prevent the defects.

How much folic acid should be taken?

A woman should start taking folic acid within the first three to four weeks of pregnancy, as birth defects may occur during this time. Women who start taking folic acid a year before getting pregnant produce healthy babies without birth defects.

400 mcg of folic acid is the recommended dose for all women who are of childbearing age and also in the first trimester of pregnancy. Multivitamins with the recommended amount of folate and folic acid supplements are generally prescribed as they help the mother deliver a healthy child. From the fourth to ninth month of pregnancy, the dose must be increased to 600 mcg.

Benefits of Folic Acid

Without sufficient folic acid in your body, the neural tube of your developing baby may not close properly. This may lead to neural tube defects, which include:

  • Spina bifida, a condition where the spinal cord or vertebrae develop incompletely. A baby with spina bifida may be disabled permanently.

  • Anencephaly, a condition that features incomplete development of the brain. Babies affected with anencephaly do not live long.

Having a sufficient supply of folic acid prevents these neural defects from developing in your baby.

Taking folic acid before and during pregnancy protects your baby against many other conditions. They include:

  • Cleft lip and palate.

  • Low weight during birth.

  • Chances of miscarriage.

  • Premature birth.

Folic acid also reduces the risk of developing pregnancy complications in the mother such as heart diseases, stroke, several cancers and Alzheimer’s disease.

Folic acid is naturally found in dark-green vegetables, which you must consume in abundance. Other sources of folic acid include fortified breakfast cereals, beef liver, lentils, egg noodles and great northern beans.

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