Research extensively shows that couples preparing to conceive, most notably women, are eager to make lifestyle changes in order to be in optimal health before planning for a baby. While some start exercising, others switch to a more healthy and well-balanced diet. In this blog post, MyMama midwife Ms Annabelle Mamo talks about the importance of folic acid in pregnancy.
Whilst there are many things couples need to take into consideration before planning to conceive, folic acid supplementation should be given prime importance as it is pivotal in ensuring a healthy baby. Folic acid supplementation should be started and taken by the woman as soon as the couple starts planning a pregnancy, preferably one month before conceiving. This needs to be continued throughout the first 12 weeks of pregnancy when the baby's development and organ formation are happening at a fast rate. Do not panic if you did not take folic acid before getting pregnant, but you should start taking supplements as soon as you find out you're expecting.
Folic acid is a B vitamin and is very important for the proper formation and development of the baby, most primarily the brain and the spine. Folic acid supplementation greatly reduces the chances of your baby having neural tube defects such as spina bifida. Spina bifida is a serious but rare condition where a baby's spine and spinal cord do not develop properly in the womb. As a result, a multitude of short and long term consequences will manifest.
Folic acid is found as folate in dark green leafy vegetables such as broccoli and brussels sprouts, peas, chickpeas and kidney beans, avocado and breakfast cereals fortified with folic acid. Thus, make sure to include a variety of these foods in your daily diet! Since it is difficult to get the amount recommended from food alone, it's important to take a daily folic acid supplement. It is generally recommended that women take 400 micrograms of folic acid everyday. These usually come in tablets and may be bought off the counter from pharmacies and health shops. One thing you can do to increase compliance is by taking the supplements at the same time each day. It is also important to note that folates are rapidly destroyed by heat and dissolve readily in water therefore extra care needs to be taken when choosing the cooking method for these folate rich foods.
Women with specific pre-existing medical conditions require a higher dose of folic acid during pregnancy. These include couples who themselves have neural tube defects, having a family history of neural tube defects, have had a previous baby with a neural tube defect, suffer from diabetes (high blood sugar level) and epilepsy (fits). It is paramount that couples who have these underlying conditions consult an obstetrician before embarking on a pregnancy.
Last but not least, my take home message to you is to start including folate rich foods everyday and supplementing with folic acid if you are a woman at likelihood of conceiving. Please do not hesitate to reach out to our team of dedicated midwives at MyMama should you require any additional information.
Ms Annabelle Mamo is offering online consultations to pregnant women and new mums via this platform. Book an appointment with her should you need expert support and information relating to pregnancy, birth and parenthood preparation (nutrition, pain relief, infant care, infant feeding, self-care, local services) and any specific questions that you might have.