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Every pregnant woman is given a host of advice by well-meaning friends and relatives. But any doctor would first advice you to start taking folic acid supplements on confirmation of your pregnancy. Apart from eating a healthy diet consisting of the right nutrients, folic acid supplements are recommended to be taken throughout the pregnancy and until the time you breastfeed. Other than the iron and calcium supplements, folic acid during pregnancy is one of the most important nutrients.
Folic acid during pregnancy is the most crucial and essential nutrient, especially in the first trimester. In fact, doctors recommend that folic acid supplements should be started, at least 2-3 months before planning for a pregnancy.
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Folic acid is a B vitamin (Vitamin B9). It occurs naturally in the form of folates in green leafy vegetables, whole grains, oranges, and pulses.
Well, composition-wise there is no difference between folate and folic acid. Folic acid is a man-made form of Vitamin B9 and folate is a naturally occurring form of Vitamin B9.
Folate plays an important role in the production of RBC (Red Blood Corpuscles) in your body, thus reducing your chances of getting anemia during pregnancy. It also helps your baby’s neural tube develop into the brain and the spinal cord. No wonder, it plays a superhero during your pregnancy and breastfeeding days.
During pregnancy, your body works overtime to ‘build’ the baby. And it requires plenty of nutrients to build a hale and healthy baby.
We all know that proteins are the building blocks of our cells. It is the folic acid which helps the body break down, use and create protein to build cells, which would eventually grow into a baby. Let us understand what functions folic acid/folate performs in the body of a pregnant woman, which is beneficial to the baby:
Apart from being beneficial to the baby, folic acid is also beneficial to the mother. Let us understand how folic acid benefits a to-be mother:
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The neural tube is an embryonic part, which develops into the baby’s brain and spinal cord. Neural Tube Defects (NTDs) occur very early in pregnancy, sometimes before you know that you are pregnant. Folic acid helps in preventing NTDs such as spina bifida and anencephaly.
Spina Bifida – In this, the development of the spinal cord/vertebrae in the baby is incomplete. This happens when the protective covering that grows around an unborn baby’s spinal cord doesn’t close properly, leaving a gap. This can cause permanent nerve damage and paralysis. Babies with this condition may be permanently disabled.
Anencephaly – In this, major parts of the baby’s brain remain underdeveloped. Babies with this condition, usually don’t live long. Folate deficiencies in pregnant women can lead to the above-mentioned condition in the newborns.
Folate/folic acid should be there in your system in required levels, much before you get pregnant. This is because the birth defects usually occur in the very early stages of pregnancy.
The closing of the embryonic neural tube happens during the 4th week of pregnancy, and by then you might not even know that you are pregnant. So, it is better to start taking folic acid supplements at least a month before you start trying to conceive.
Gynaecologists recommend that you start taking the folic acid:
The recommended dose of folic acid is 4 milligrams per day for adult women. For a pregnant woman or a breastfeeding mother, the recommended dosage is between 5 mg – 6 mg per day.
However, if you are overweight or diabetic or take medicines for epilepsy, your doctor might increase your dosage of folic acid. Also, if you are carrying twins, your doctor may double your dosage. So dear ladies, always consult a doctor if you have a medical condition and plan to get pregnant.
Folic acid occurs in natural form as folates, and is usually found in:
Unfortunately, the folates in these get quickly destroyed during storage and during cooking.
Research has proven that our body absorbs folic acid from supplements, better than from the folates in naturally occurring sources.
Also, folates are water soluble vitamins. So, it can get easily destroyed during storage or while cooking or steaming. Also, it is assumed that only 50% of the folates consumed are utilized by the body, and since it is water soluble, the remaining is flushed out through urine.
So, doctors advise you to take folic acid supplements daily during pregnancy. But taking supplements doesn’t mean that you have to stop taking natural sources of folates.
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Folic acid is recommended for breastfeeding mothers as one of the most important nutrients. It helps in creation and maintenance of DNA, which are the building blocks of the cells.
This is passed on to the baby through the mother’s milk and can be beneficial to the baby. Also, a breastfeeding mother’s nutritional requirements are high which can be met by postnatal or breastfeeding supplements.
Though we all know that not 100% of the folic acid consumed is utilized by the body, it is still possible to have excess folic acid in your body due to higher intake of supplements.
Folic Acid is an essential vitamin for adults as well as children. It’s deficiency can lead to anaemia, irritability, pale skin, poor digestion, and suppressed immune function. The daily requirement of folates for adult women who are not pregnant, is 400 mg per day and this amount is usually not met by the foods consumed.
There is no harm is continuing to take folic acid throughout your life. However, if you are consuming any other multivitamin supplements, it is better to avoid consuming folic acid supplement separately.
Finally, you should be aware that Vitamin B9/Folate/Folic Acid is an essential nutrient, both in prenatal and postnatal days. Always consume only the recommended dosage, as excess dosage can have detrimental effects. Never forget to inform your doctor about any medical conditions you have like obesity, diabetes, epilepsy etc. So that the doctor can decide the optimal dosage for you. Always remember that taking supplements is no excuse for skipping a nutritious and wholesome diet during pregnancy as well as breastfeeding time.
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