first moment you look into your baby's eyes, you will probably feel both love and
fear for your new responsibility. It is one of the strongest instincts of life, to protect
your baby. But you don't have to wait until you see your baby for the first time. You
can start taking care of your baby today. Even before you're pregnant.
The U.S. Public Health Service recommends that all women who could become pregnant get
400 micrograms (0.4 mg) of folic acid every day. This could prevent up to 70 percent of
some types of serious birth defects. But to do this, women need folic acid a month before
they get pregnant through the first few weeks the baby is growing. That's why you
should always get enough folic acid everyday . . .even if you're not planning a baby
until next month, next year, or later.
Why Folic Acid Is So Important
Folic acid is a B-vitamin that can be found in some enriched foods and in vitamin
pills. If women have enough of it in their bodies before pregnancy, this vitamin can
prevent birth defects of the baby's brain or spine. Spina bifida, a birth defect of
the spine, can cause paralysis of the lower body, with no control of bowel or bladder, and
learning disabilities. Another type of birth defect affects the brain and causes babies to
die within a few days.
But now the message about these birth defects is one of hope -- many of them can be
prevented if women get enough folic acid every day. Folic acid can help form a baby's
brain and spine. Getting enough takes a small effort. But it makes a big difference.
Most of us get some folic acid in our diet every day. Folic acid has been added to some
foods such as enriched breads, pastas, rice and cereals. Check the labels on your
breakfast cereals; a few have 100 percent of the folic acid you need. A well-balanced diet
with fruits and vegetables is always important. You can get your folic acid through food
alone, but it takes careful planning to make sure you get enough every day.
...And Take A Vitamin
women, an easy way to be sure you're getting enough folic acid is to take a vitamin
with folic acid in it. Almost every multivitamin you can buy has all the folic acid you
need. If you get an upset stomach from multivitamins, try taking them with meals or just
before bed. You can also buy vitamin pills made with only folic acid- they are small and
easy to swallow.
Even If You're Not Planning to Have a Baby Yet
No one expects an unplanned pregnancy. But they happen-every day. In fact, about half
of all pregnancies are not planned. That's why you should get enough folic acid every
day if there's any chance you could get pregnant. Because by the time you know
you're pregnant, your baby's brain and spine are already formed.
For More Information
If you'd like more information on folic acid, or if you have questions, contact us
at 1-888-232-5929 . You can visit the Folic Acid website. Or, ask
your own doctor, pharmacist, nurse, or dietitian for more information. But don't wait
until you're pregnant. Your baby needs you now-before you know it.
NCEH Pub No. 99-0240
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