I personally believe, the best gift any woman, who is trying to conceive, can receive is advice on the importance of vitamin B9 or folate.
Sufficient quantities of this vitamin would ensure that fetuses do not develop abnormalities leading to a healthy pregnancy and subsequently a normal child.
Let us see the importance of folic acid during pregnancy:
Sometimes it is the case that due to the lack of this vitamin, fetuses develop abnormalities most common being Neural Tube Defects (NTD).
What is the Neural Tube?
Before we speak about the defects, it is important to understand the structure of the neural tube. The neural tube is the part of the embryo from which the baby’s spine and brain develop.
The neural tube develops fully by 12 weeks of pregnancy. Some birth defects occur within the first 3-4 weeks of pregnancy. Since expectant mothers typically realize that they are pregnant only after 6-8 weeks after conception, proactive intake of folic acid is recommended.
What could go wrong with the neural tube?
Without going into the technicalities, if insufficient of folic acid is present, there are chances that the spine could be affected (a condition known as spina bifida) or the brain could be affected (known as anencephaly).
What is Vitamin B9 and how does it help?
Vitamin B9, known as “folate” in its natural form, can be synthesized as “folic acid” without losing its effectiveness. Folate plays an important role in the production of red blood cells and helps the baby’s neural tube to develop and close.
By close, it means that the spinal cord and vertebrae are properly encapsulated within the spinal column without any portions extending beyond the natural sheaths of protection.
It is highly recommended that women consume folic acid in sufficient quantities from two to three months prior to conception to ensure normal development of their fetus.
Research suggests that if consumed sufficiently, then the risk of NTD reduces by up to 70%.
How much folic acid does an expectant mother require?
It is recommended that any woman of childbearing age consume 400 mcg of folic acid a day and after conception, the dosage can be increased to 600 mcg up to 12 weeks of gestation when the neural tube would have been fully formed.
What are the naturally occurring sources of folic acid?
|Food source||Folic acid amount in mcg|
|Spinach (one cup cooked)||262|
|Broccoli (one cup cooked)||78|
|Sunflower seeds (one cup)||300|
|Asparagus (half a cup canned)||98|
|Black beans (one cup cooked)||256|
|Fresh Orange juice (one cup)||109|
|Peanuts (one cup)||212|
|Lentils (one cup cooked)||358|
When do some mothers require additional folic acid?
Sometimes when a mother has a previous child affected by an NTD, then it is recommended that the dosage of folic acid be increased to 4000 mcg (equivalent to 4mg).
So in all, planning a pregnancy is not just from conception but begins a couple of months prior when the levels of folic acid should be raised in the mother’s body.
It is paramount that the importance of this vitamin is understood and given its due importance.
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