Folic acid, Folate or Folacin as it is also known, is a B complex vitamin that is vital for the proper functioning and development of the human body. Since this vitamin is essential for cell division and growth as well as proper functioning of the cell, folic acid during pregnancy assumes a very important role.
It isn’t just that folic acid during pregnancy is important; it is in fact recommended that folic acid supplements should be begun as soon as the decision is taken, to get pregnant.
This is because folic acid starts to function right from the time of actual conception, which is typically a few weeks before the pregnancy is confirmed. Folic acid is vitally important for the formation of the brain, the spinal cord and the entire nervous system of the fetus.
Insufficient folic acid during pregnancy may cause birth defects such as neural tube defects, which can result in spina bifida or anencephaly. A folic acid deficiency can even be the reason for miscarriage.
Spina Bifida is a condition wherein the spine of the baby is left open owing to the fact that some problem in the embryonic stage caused the neural tube to remain open.
This can result in paralysis, mental retardation and lack of control of the bladder. Anencephaly is a condition that prevents proper development of the fetus’ brain and which results in death soon after birth or even a still birth.
The recommended dosage of folic acid during pregnancy is 400 micrograms a day as soon as you decide to get pregnant. When the pregnancy is confirmed that dosage is usually recommended to be increased to 600 micrograms by doctors.
For pregnancies in families with a history of Spina Bifida, the recommended dosage may be as high as 4000 micrograms.
As far as possible overdose of folic acid is concerned, there is usually no fear of any sort of toxicity resulting from a high dose. Extra folate in the body is flushed out because it is a water soluble vitamin.
Apart from the supplement, it is important to have foods which are naturally rich in folic acid, so that the body gets naturally occurring folate from food sources as well.
The following foods are a good source of folic acid during pregnancy and are healthy to consume for other reasons as well –
- Leafy green vegetables are a good source of folate, so spinach, turnip greens and collard greens, lettuce and cabbage asparagus, cauliflower and broccoli, parsnips and peas are a good source of folic acid as well as several other nutrients.
- Fruits such as oranges, kiwi, papaya, pineapple, banana, grapefruit, raw avocado, cantaloupe etc are also a good source of folate and are also otherwise advisable to eat during pregnancy.
- Many kinds of legumes and nuts are also a rich source of folate. So it is a good idea to include items such as dried legumes, black eyed peas, lentils, pinto beans and great northern beans in a pregnancy diet.
- Organ meat and chicken giblets are also a good source of folate.
- Many cereals and baked goods are also fortified with folate.