When you think about pregnancy, you think about pre-natal vitamins, proper diet, lifestyle changes, mood swings, and so on. Pregnancy is undoubtedly a divine experience for most women, but it demands a lot of adjustments in life.
A pregnant woman’s physiological, dietary, and lifestyle needs drastically change compared to someone who isn’t pregnant. One of those big changes is the folic acid intake, a type of B vitamin. But why is it so crucial during pregnancy?
This article will explore everything there is to know about folic acid for pregnancy, its benefits, dosage, and even any potential side effects you should be aware of.
In this Article
- 1 What is Folic Acid?
- 2 What are the Benefits of Folic Acid during Pregnancy?
- 3 What is the Optimal Dosage of Folic Acid during Pregnancy?
- 4 When is the Ideal Time to Take Folic Acid during Pregnancy?
- 5 FAQs
- 6 Conclusion
What is Folic Acid?
Would you be surprised if we said that folic acid is a “man-made” version of Vitamin B? It is a synthetic form of Vitamin B usually taken through supplements. During pregnancy, it is part of your prenatal vitamin supplements.
While folate is crucial in day-to-day life, its significance during pregnancy is even more important. Not only does it support the steady growth and development of the fetus, but the correct supplementation of folic acid during pregnancy also reduces the risks of birth abnormalities.
Many people often confuse folic acid and folate. Folate is the “natural” form of the B vitamin and is sourced from foods like spinach, avocado, and banana. Folic acid, which is a synthetic form of the B vitamin, is either found in supplements or fortified food products like cereals, etc.
What are the Benefits of Folic Acid during Pregnancy?
According to the CDC, around 300,000 newborns are born with neural tube defects each year. Do you know the primary cause behind this birth abnormality? The lack of proper folic acid supplementation during pregnancy.
Although the benefits of folic acid might not be astounding or over the top, it plays a crucial role in preventing severe congenital disabilities that can potentially alter the newborn’s quality of life once they are delivered.
Some of the important folic acid benefits in pregnancy include:
1. Prevent Risks of Anemia
The primary benefit of folic acid during pregnancy is to support healthy red blood cell production in the body.
Lack of proper production of red blood cells in the body is associated with negative impacts on organ function in the body. Anything like that happening during pregnancy can contribute to potential complications, which might affect the mother and the developing fetus.
Improper folic acid supplementation during pregnancy is associated with the risk of developing a condition called folate-deficiency anemia. This prevents the body from producing enough red blood cells, which affects the oxygen availability in the body, leading to potential complications.
2. Prevent Risks of Neural Tube Defects
One of the primary reasons why doctors advise taking folic acid tablets before pregnancy is to reduce the risks of various neural tube defects.
The neural tube is what develops to form the spinal cord and brain in the developing fetus after 28 days of conception. Lack of proper folic acid supplementation during that period leads to congenital disabilities and deformities like:
Anencephaly – a condition that affects the brain’s development.
Spina bifida – a condition that affects the formation of the spine and spinal cord in the fetus.
Babies born with anencephaly don’t survive, so you can gauge the severity of the condition and why folic acid supplementation isn’t an option but a necessity for a pregnant woman and the developing fetus in their womb.
Newborns with conditions like spina bifida or encephalocele are always at risk of developing long-term disability, poor quality of life, and paralysis, and might need multiple surgeries to fix the issues.
3. Prevent Risks of Congenital Heart Defects
Although there are not many peer-reviewed studies are available, a 2015 study found that proper intake of folic acid during pregnancy significantly reduces the risks of congenital heart defects in the baby.
Congenital heart defects are prevalent worldwide and are typically marked by improper development of the heart’s muscles or the supplying of blood vessels to the heart.
Some of these defects even affect the functioning of the heart valves and the internal chambers in the heart.
4. Prevent Risks of Pregnancy Complications
Last but definitely not least in the list of benefits of folic acid during pregnancy is that it eliminates the risks of certain pregnancy complications, including pre-term birth, placental complications, and a few other birth abnormalities, including cleft palate and cleft lip.
Most of these pregnancy complications might lead to long-term issues in the newborn, which is why taking the correct dosage of folic acid throughout the pregnancy is ideal.
What is the Optimal Dosage of Folic Acid during Pregnancy?
The ideal folic acid pregnancy dose is 400 mcg per day. This is irrespective of the amount of folic acid or folate a pregnant woman is getting from additional dietary sources.
Also, unless prescribed otherwise by the healthcare provider, a pregnant woman should never consume over 1000 mcg of folic acid daily. Excess intake might impose negative implications on the health of the mother and the developing fetus.
When is the Ideal Time to Take Folic Acid during Pregnancy?
Folic acid, as we discussed, has a quintessential role during pregnancy. It isn’t an option but a dire necessity to eliminate any or every potential risk and complication associated with its deficiency.
If you are actively planning to conceive, it is ideal to start taking the folic acid supplementation during that period instead of waiting until you have actually conceived and confirmed your pregnancy.
Since folic acid is an important supplement that supports multiple other physiological functions, taking it when you are not yet pregnant doesn’t impose any side effects or complications.
Once you are pregnant, your doctor will most likely suggest taking folic acid as part of the prenatal vitamins up to 12 weeks of gestation.
Can I get enough folic acid from food during pregnancy?
Foods like fortified cereals, rice, orange juice, pasta, etc., have a good balance of folic acid. However, since folic acid requirements substantially increase during pregnancy, it is better to get them from supplements instead of relying only on dietary sources.
Is it safe to combine folic acid with dietary folate?
There is no harm in combing folic acid with dietary folate sources. The folate that you get from food is very low in concentration, so the risk of getting “too much” by mixing the two is impossible. However, the dosage of the folic acid supplement needs to be regulated. Anything above 1000 mcg of folic acid per day can be hazardous to the baby and the mother.
Does folic acid affect fertility?
Studies indicate that intake of folic acid when trying to get pregnant might enhance the chances of conception. Besides fertility, folic acid also reduces the risks of miscarriages and unexpected pregnancy loss in several cases.
Folic acid during pregnancy is a vital nutrient that supports the health of the mother and the developing fetus in the womb. If you are considering getting pregnant, discuss the correct dosage of folic acid you should take during that period. Also, once you have a confirmed pregnancy, immediately getting on the folic acid supplementation is crucial to ensure optimal health and well-being of the baby growing inside your womb.