A woman has a lot to think about when planning a pregnancy and having a baby. There's the usual stuff such as career considerations and taking time off from work, crossing alcohol off the grocery list, window shopping for the right crib, buying new clothes to accommodate her own gradual growth of girth, and picking out boy's and girl's names to have at the ready to discuss with her husband.
All of that is the easy stuff that can be handled sometime today, tomorrow or next week, but there is one item on the to-do list that she cannot do without, and it calls for immediate action. If she isn't already doing so, it's time to supplement her regular eating plan with a daily dose of folic acid. It is something that moms-to-be can't afford to be without.
Folic acid is a B vitamin that performs a vital function in the production of red blood cells, which will assist in the healthy development of the baby's neural tube into his or her brain and spinal cord. Even if women of child-bearing age aren't planning on getting pregnant, they are encouraged to take folic acid every day if they are of child-bearing age, as about half of all pregnancies are unplanned.
The universally recommended dosage is 400 mcg a day for the first three months, then 600 mcg a day through the last six months. Once the baby is born, breastfeeding women need 500 mcg a day. All this is in addition to the folic acid, or folate as it is known in its natural form, ingested each day as part of a well-balanced diet. Among the common types of foods, identified by womenshealth.gov and/or webmd.com, as fortified naturally with folate are bread, leafy vegetables, citrus fruits, beans (legumes), pasta, rice and some breakfast cereals – check labels to see which foods are so fortified.
If swallowing a large multivitamin pill each day is a concern, multivitamins containing folic acid also come in alternative forms such as chewable chocolate or fruit flavors, liquids and large oval or small round pills, according to cdc.gov, the website of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website.
Not taking a sufficient and consistent dose of supplemental folic acid starting out, preferably, at least four weeks in advance of the pregnancy, could result in birth defects involving the baby's brain (anencephaly) and spine (spina bifida). These can occur less than a month into a pregnancy, even before the mom knows she's pregnant. Anencephaly is usually fatal short term, while spina bifida can result in a permanent disability, requiring numerous surgeries, marked by neurological problems as well as learning disabilities.
Taken prior to and continuing into the pregnancy, folic acid might also protect your baby from cleft lip and palate, low birth weight, miscarriage and poor growth in the womb. It has also been postulated that folic acid can be good for the mother herself, helping to guard against heart disease, stroke, some types of cancer and Alzheimer's disease, according to webmd.com. A study that says taking folic acid for at least a year before getting pregnant can cut a woman's chances of premature birth by 50 percent or more.
When buying multivitamins with folic acid, always check the labels to make sure each pill or tablet includes at least 400 mcg. Also be sure to check the expiration date – if it's an expired date, don't buy it and notify store management that it is selling outdated consumables. If you are unable to locate an expiration date at all, same thing – don't buy and take it to the manager.
Just remember, the future health and quality of your baby's life is at stake. Take the appropriate steps to promote a healthy pregnancy and make folic acid a high priority in your life, and best wishes on picking out the right name for the baby!