According to the CDC [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention], about 3,000 infants are born with neural tube defects [NTDs] every year. These defects include spina bifida, and anencephaly, a condition wherein the brain is not formed properly or is partly missing. Babies who survived these conditions are often left paralyzed for life.
Neural tube defects can be prevented if you take folic acid before and during your pregnancy.
What is folic acid?
Folic acid, or folate, is a B vitamin which is essential in cell production, including red production.
Folic acid is found in foods, fortified cereals, and vitamin supplements.
Benefits of folic acid
The neural tube develops into the brain and spinal cord. Folic acid helps the neural tube in fetuses grow. Without folic acid, the neural tube might not close properly. Babies can develop anencephaly, and spina bifida, a condition which is characterized by a protruding spinal cord or sac filled with fluid through an opening in the back.
The CDC reports that folic acid can reduce the occurrence of NTDs by as much as 70 percent. Studies also show that when taken before and during pregnancy, folic acid may also help prevent other birth defects such as:
- Clef lip and palate – according to one study, women who ate healthy diet, took multivitamins, and got at least 400 mcg of folic acid everyday, had the lowest risk of giving birth to a child with a cleft lip.
- Pregnancy complications – one report found that women who took folic acid supplements during the second trimester had a lower risk of preeclampsia, or pregnancy-induced high blood pressure.
- Premature birth – one study showed that women who took folic acid for least a year before getting pregnant lowered their risk of premature birth by as much as 50 percent.
- Low birth weight
- Poor growth in the womb
- Aside from protecting your baby against birth defects, folic acid also protects your health. Studies show that folic acid could lower your risks of heart disease, stroke, some types of cancers, and even Alzheimer’s disease.
When to start taking folic acid
Most pregnancies are unplanned, thus it is important that all women of childbearing age take folic acid even if they are not trying to get pregnant. Birth defects happen during the first 3-4 weeks of pregnancy. It is around this time that your baby’s brain and spinal cord is developing; so it is necessary to have folic acid in your system during those early stages of pregnancy.