Your pregnancy diet is important for your baby and you! First and foremost, the nutrients you consume throughout your pregnancy are the building blocks of your baby’s in-utero development. Folic acid (a B vitamin) is one of the most important of these “blocks” because we now understand folate is one of the supports healthy neurological development.
Fetuses who don’t have access to enough folic acid are at higher risk for brain, spine and nerve defects, most commonly in the form of anencephaly and spina bifida. That’s why we want to shine the spotlight on folic acid for a bit and share these 5 facts.
Read 7 Ways to Prevent Birth Defects to learn more about what you can do to support a healthy pregnancy experience for you and baby.
1. You need folic acid whether you’re pregnant or not – so start while TTC
Folic acid hardly comes up in conversation until you’re pregnant; yet, folic acid is integral to cell regeneration, and is also required for healthy nails, hair and skin. Adults should take about 4 mg/day.
Once you’re pregnant, however, you need more folic acid, and it’s best to optimize that intake during the first trimester – about .6/mg per day is the standard – and then dial it back to 5 mg/day if you breastfeed.
Since many women don’t know they’re pregnant until month 2 or even 3, taking a prenatal vitamin when you’re preparing for pregnancy is the best way to ensure you’re getting what you need from the minute your baby is conceived.
2. Nature made folate, we made folic acid
Just to be clear, Mother Nature created this essential nutrient in the form of folate, which is found in a variety of foods. Once the medical realm realized its importance in preventing serious birth defects, manufacturers created folic acid as an alternative.
Our bodies are best at assimilating folate via a diet rich in leafy greens, legumes and citrus fruits (O.J. is a delicious and nutritious form of folate!). Supplemental forms are a next-best option. Additional foods that include high levels of folate include:
- Brussels sprouts
- Nuts and seeds
- Wheat Germ
3. You absorb nutrients – including folate (folic acid) – best through your diet
Prenatal vitamins are wonderful, but they’re not the best way to get the vitamins and minerals you need. And, for women battling morning sickness, prenatal vitamins may be a no-go for a while as they can further stomach upset. Integrating the foods listed in #2 provide the best foundation for folate absorption, and prenatal supplements should be just that – supplements.
4. You benefit from folic acid, too!
Yes, during pregnancy, your developing baby becomes the focus. However, moms benefit in a big way when getting the nutrients you need before, during and after pregnancy.
First, a well-nourished woman feels better while pregnant and will experience less fatigue and other typical pregnancy discomforts; you’ll benefit after pregnancy as well because studies show women who intake adequate folate/folic acid levels (again, at least .4 mg/day in “normal life”) are less likely to experience heart disease, strokes and certain types of cancer.
5. You can O.D. (overdo) folic acid intake
Yes, you need enough folic acid, but too much is dangerous also. Sometimes women go overboard, ingesting larger doses of folic acid than necessary “just to be safe,” and this can have negative outcomes.
According to Harvard.edu, taking too much folic acid can wind up hiding the sign of anemia and, because folic acid isn’t excreted through your urine, it can build up to high levels in the blood stream, blocking the cells from absorbing any folate at all since the body “senses” a proliferation. Only take the level of folic acid your OB/GYN recommends – no more, no less.
Looking for an pregnancy, labor and delivery team who has your well being at heart? Schedule a consultation here at Women’s Health Associates.