Did you know that the addition of a single vitamin could significantly reduce the risk of having a baby with a serious birth defect? One of the most important things a woman can do to help prevent serious birth defects is to get enough folic acid every day — especially before conception and during early pregnancy. Folic Acid, also known as folate, is in the B vitamin family, and plays an important roll in cell production and division.
In a growing baby, folic acid helps the neural tube, which develops into the brain and spinal cord, grow and develop. The most common neural tube defects are spina bifida (an incomplete closure of the spinal cord and spinal column) and anencephaly (severe underdevelopment of the brain). These defects occur during the first 28 days of pregnancy — often before a woman even knows she’s pregnant.
Folic acid is found in foods, fortified cereals and other grain products, as well as in vitamin supplements. It is sometimes called folate and is found mostly in leafy green vegetables like kale and spinach, orange juice, and enriched grains.
How can a woman make sure she’s getting enough folic acid? In 1998, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration mandated that folic acid be added to enriched grain products — so many foods such as breakfast cereals, breads, pastas, and rice contain 100% of the recommended daily folic acid allowance. Nevertheless, for most women, eating fortified foods isn’t enough. To reach the recommended daily level, most women need a vitamin supplement.
Finally, as many pregnancies aren’t planned, it’s important for every woman of childbearing age to take folic acid, even if she is not trying to conceive. Birth defects occur within the first three to four weeks of pregnancy, so it’s important to have folic acid available during those early stages when the brain and spinal cord are developing.
Sara Babcock, RNC MS
High Risk Obstetrics Clinical Nurse Specialist
The Center for Perinatal Care