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How Important Is Folic Acid During Your Pregnancy?

By Dr. Nikita Toshi +2 more

Introduction 

Many micronutrient supplements are often marketed as helping women give their baby’s the best chance at healthy development. Folic acid in pregnancy (during, before, and after) is one of the most commonly recommended nutrients. Besides this, most obstetricians will tell you that a well-rounded diet should be enough for most women to stay healthy during their term.


If the mother has inadequate nutritional intake, supplements may help to support healthy overall nutrition during this time. Several studies have been conducted to explore how these nutrients can help expectant mothers and their children. Let’s dive into the importance of folic acid during pregnancy. 

What Is folic acid?

Folic acid is a manmade form of folate, also known as vitamin B9. When folic acid tablets for pregnancy or deficiency are used, the body converts folic acid into folate. Folate is a vital nutrient that the body needs from outside sources since we cannot make it ourselves. Usually, we get this nutrient from foods like peanuts, lentils, chickpeas as well as chicken liver, cheese and eggs

Folate is required by the body particularly when cell division takes place. It is used during DNA synthesis and for producing the amino acids that are involved in new cell creation. It is also important for the formation of healthy blood cells and for transforming carbs into energy. 

  • Folate is essential for your body’s day to day functioning (especially blood formation). It is especially important during times of high cell division such as during adolescence, pregnancy and a baby’s first few years. 

Universal prophylaxis for the general obstetric population — For most women, we recommend a folic acid supplement (multivitamin, prenatal vitamin) containing 0.4 mg once per day, beginning at least one month prior to attempting conception and continuing throughout pregnancy, in agreement with most national medical organizations.

Dr. M.G. Kartheeka, MBBS, MD

Folic acid during pregnancy

 folic acid during pregnancy has the strongest evidence for actually benefiting the mother and developing child. Folate (in the form of folic acid) has been shown to significantly reduce the risk of babies developing neural tube defects during pregnancy. Neural tube defects are a type of condition that affects the proper formation of the baby’s spinal cord and vertebrae.

There may be some other potential benefits of folic acid in pregnancy such as lower risks of cleft palate, premature birth, low weight at birth, poor foetal development. Pregnancy complications such as preeclampsia may also be reduced with regular folic acid intake during your term. Note that the evidence for these benefits is much lower than folate benefits against neural tube defects. 

An individual need not worry if they have not taken folic acid before conceiving or in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy inadvertently. It is still likely that the baby will develop normally. Routine ultrasound scans at around 12 and 20 weeks will detect if there are any concerns.

Dr. Ashish Bajaj, M.B.B.S., M.D

Also Read: Can Precum Cause Pregnancy? Dispelling Misconceptions About Conception

Should you take folic acid during pregnancy?

It will depend on your existing health condition and diet. If your obstetrician or doctor recommends taking this supplement then follow their instructions. If they think that your diet sufficiently covers the folate requirements of both you and your baby, they may not prescribe any supplements.  

High-dose prophylaxis for women at high risk of offspring with NTD — Women who are at higher risk of having a child with an NTD than the baseline population are candidates for higher (1 to 4 mg) dose folic acid supplementation. This dose should be initiated one to three months prior to conception and maintained through the first 12 weeks of gestation, after which the dose is reduced to 0.4 mg.

Dr. M.G. Kartheeka, MBBS, MD

When to start folic acid during pregnancy?

The WHO, CDC in the USA and many other medical bodies all recommend that folic acid should be taken starting from several weeks before you intend on getting pregnant. This is because the birth defects that folate is effective against usually happen within the first month of pregnancy. Hence it is very important to have sufficient amounts of folic acid before you are even pregnant. 

  • Your doctor will recommend the amounts of folate you need to take before pregnancy, during the 3 trimesters of pregnancy and during breastfeeding. Follow these recommendations carefully.   

Also Read: Can You Get Pregnant Without Having Sex? Debunking Pregnancy Myths

Conclusion

While other supplements are not protective against mortality, birth defects and other such conditions, they are still essential for a balanced nutrition intake. Hence, your doctor may prescribe prenatal supplements regardless. Note that apart from folic acid and vitamin D, no supplements have shown strong evidence of protecting your baby from birth defects so be careful with products that suggest anything similar. And remember that diverse, nutritious food plays an even bigger role in maintaining your health during pregnancy.

Also Read: Potential Benefits of Folic Acid: Exploring its Impact on Health Based on Research

Disclaimer: The information provided here is for educational/awareness purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for medical treatment by a healthcare professional and should not be relied upon to diagnose or treat any medical condition. The reader should consult a registered medical practitioner to determine the appropriateness of the information and before consuming any medication. PharmEasy does not provide any guarantee or warranty (express or implied) regarding the accuracy, adequacy, completeness, legality, reliability or usefulness of the information; and disclaims any liability arising thereof.

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