If you are pregnant, you can take folic acid to help prevent certain birth defects in your baby.
Folic acid and folate are two forms of the same B vitamin.
Folate is the form that occurs naturally in foods,
while folic acid is the manmade form added to multivitamins and fortified foods.
Your body needs folic acid to help make new cells, including: brain cells, blood cells,
and DNA and RNA, the genetic material inside your cells.
During pregnancy, you need even more folic acid, because your baby's body needs it too.
Folic acid helps your baby's brain and spinal cord develop normally.
Taking folic acid can significantly reduce the risk of neural tube defects in your developing baby,
called an embryo at this stage. The neural tube begins as a tiny oval-shaped piece of embryonic tissue
which folds into a tube about 28 days after conception.
When this tube closes properly, it continues to develop into your baby’s brain and spinal cord.
If the neural tube does not close due to the lack of folic acid in your diet, your baby may have a neural tube defect
such as spina bifida or anencephaly. In spina bifita, the neural tube fails to close at the bottom,
as a result the parts of the spine that enclose and protect the lower spinal cord do not completely form, allowing the cord to protrude.
Children with this defect often require surgery and have permanent disabilities, including leg paralysis, developmental delays, and nervous system problems.
In the condition called anencephaly, the neural tube fails to close at the top, preventing large parts of the brain
and skull from developing completely. Babies with this defect are unable to live and usually die
before birth or soon after. Folic acid may also protect against other birth defects, such as, cleft lip and palate
and atrial septal defect, which is when a hole between the right and left upper chambers of the heart,
fails to close during development. Because the neural tube develops so early in pregnancy, often before a woman
knows she’s pregnant, experts recommend all women who are able to become pregnant take a daily multivitamin containing 400 micrograms
of folic acid every day. During pregnancy, the need increases to 600 micrograms of folic acid each day.
Experts recommend you take this multivitamin in addition to the food folate in your diet because your body
does not absorb folate found naturally in food as easily as the manmade folic acid.
Caregivers will often prescribe even 1000 micrograms of folic acid daily to assure these minimal levels are covered.
Even more may be required in some groups of women, including those with previous miscarriages,
and those women deficient in a folic acid metabolic enzyme. Talk with your caregiver about the optimal dose for you.