By Mediconsult's Nutrition Services
Q. Why is folic acid important?
A. During pregnancy, folate plays a primary role helping cells to multiply in the developing fetus and protecting against maternal anemia. A deficiency of folate can result in neural tube defects. During early fetal development the tube that will encase your baby's brain and spinal cord closes. A neural tube defect occurs when this tube does not close properly. Adequate folate intake both before and during pregnancy is important for this process to occur correctly. As it occurs in the early weeks of pregnancy, often before a women knows she is pregnant, folate supplementation while preparing for pregnancy can reduce the risk of giving birth to a child with neural tube defects by 70%. For women who had a previous child with a known neural tube defect (NTD), the recommendation for folic acid intake is significantly higher and should be discussed with your doctor. Once pregnant, experts recommend all women consume 600 micrograms (mcg) of folate daily, through dietary sources, supplement or combination of both.
Ideally, all girls and women who are in their childbearing years should consume at least 400 micrograms of folate daily. Once pregnant, 600 micrograms per day is needed. Folic acid is naturally high in many foods, and it is now added to fortify many grain products in the United States. If you are not eating enough folic acid, a multivitamin-mineral supplement with folic acid is recommended.