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Women…Are you getting enough Folic Acid?

If you are thinking of becoming pregnant now or months from now, you should consider taking Folic Acid. Folic acid supplementation has been shown to prevent serious birth defects. When the fetus receives folic acid through the mother it helps the fetus’s brain and spinal cord to develop correctly. One thing to keep in mind is that for folic acid to be effective the mother must take it before she gets pregnant.

Folic acid is a vitamin that promotes normal cell replication and growth. Folic acid supports the normal formation of building blocks of DNA, the body’s genetic information, and building blocks of RNA needed for protein synthesis in all cells. Therefore, rapidly growing tissues, such as those of a fetus, and rapidly regenerating cells, like red blood cells and immune cells, have a high need for folic acid. This vitamin promotes the development of the fetal central nervous system and healthful diets containing adequate folic acid may reduce a woman’s risk of having a child with a brain or spinal cord defect. However, routine nutrition does not always supply enough folic acid to meet the requirements of a pregnant woman. Additionally, folic acid intake is necessary in the months before pregnancy and during the first trimester.

March of Dimes, a charity that seeks to improve the health of babies by preventing birth defects, states: “About 3,000 pregnancies are affected by neural tube (the part of the baby that forms the brain and spinal cord) defects each year in the United States. If all women took adequate folic acid before getting pregnant and during early pregnancy, up to 70 percent of neural tube defects could be prevented.”

Research shows that almost half of pregnancies in the US are unplanned, therefore, it is essential for all women of childbearing age to ensure that they are getting enough folic acid. If you’re very tuned in to nutrition and regularly eat a broad range of foods, including meat, dairy products, fruits, vegetables, grains, and legumes, your diet will provide almost all the nutrients you and your baby need. Realistically, though, most women, can benefit from taking a prenatal vitamin and mineral supplement before they start trying to conceive. Think of it as an insurance policy to make sure you’re getting the right amount of certain important nutrients during pregnancy.

Public health authorities recommend that women consume 0.4 mg folic acid daily from fortified foods or dietary supplements or both to reduce the risk of neural tube defects. Other important vitamins pregnant women should be taking are iron and calcium.

Iron is an important mineral found in prenatal vitamins, and is responsible for helping the mother and the baby’s blood to carry oxygen. Iron deficiencies can lead to severe birth defects for the baby. As an essential mineral, iron is part of hemoglobin, the oxygen-carrying component of the blood. The demand for iron, essential for blood formation, is also significantly increased during pregnancy because the mother’s blood volume increases, and the fetal red blood cells have to be developed. In order to support fetal tissue growth, blood volume and contents must grow to help feed these tissues, including red blood cells. Further, about one-third of the mother’s iron storage will be passed on to her developing baby in order to form its blood and to be stored for future use.

Calcium is one of the nutrients that you won’t find a full day’s supply of in your prenatal vitamin and mineral supplement. Most prenatal vitamins contain between 100 and 200 milligrams (mg) of calcium, but some don’t contain any. That’s because calcium is a particularly bulky mineral, and the pills are already big enough! The amount of calcium you need during pregnancy is about 1,000 mg per day — the same amount you need when you’re not pregnant. (If you’re 18 or younger, you need 1,300 mg per day.) But it’s even more crucial that you get the recommended amount during pregnancy because you’ll need to replace the calcium your growing baby is getting from your own bones. Skimping on calcium now increases your risk for osteoporosis later in life. Luckily, there are many ways to get this mineral. For example, a cup of milk and a container of yogurt each contain about 300 to 350 mg. If you can’t stomach dairy products, you can get your calcium from separate supplements.


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