The importance of folic acid during pregnancy
You’ve likely always heard about the importance of taking folic acid before and during pregnancy. But… do you really know why? At our fertility clinic in Spain we have realised that many patients have questions about taking this vitamin during pregnancy.
But the questions end today! In this article we plan on answering the most frequently asked questions about folic acid that many of our patients have enquired about during consultations.
What is folic acid?
The first step is to clearly define what we’re talking about, right? Okay, folic acid is a water‑soluble vitamin that belongs to the group of B vitamins which are essential to the nervous system and cellular regeneration.
In order for you to understand more clearly, you should know that among the functions of folic acid there are three which are of special importance: cell growth, production of red blood cells and DNA production.
Why should you take folic acid during pregnancy?
There are two main reasons why it’s recommended that women take folic acid during pregnancy.
First of all, the folic acid we obtain daily through our diet is less than the amount a pregnant woman needs. According to the Spanish Society of Gynaecology, the daily recommended intake of folic acid for women is 200 micrograms (ug).
However, if you are trying to conceive or you are already pregnant, intake should be between 400 and 800 micrograms daily. Finally, women who are breastfeeding should consume about 300 ug daily.
Our Mediterranean diet is good for fertility and can provide the 200 ug recommended daily, but not the additional amount that a pregnant woman requires for proper embryo development. This is why daily folic acid is prescribed.
The second reason why doctors advise taking folic acid during pregnancy is because the human body is not able to store it. Whatever the body doesn’t use is eliminated through urine, thus making it necessary to consume folic acid naturally through food.
What functions does folic acid perform during pregnancy?
There are many studies that provide evidence showing that folic acid consumption during pregnancy decreases the risk of birth defects. For example:
- It decreases the risk of birth defects to the central nervous system of the foetus, such as incomplete development of the brain and spina bifida.
- It prevents the appearance of cleft lip and cleft palate.
- It decreases the risk of congenital heart defects.
- It decreases the risk of anaemia during pregnancy.
- It reduces chances of spontaneous miscarriage, the appearance of preeclampsia and premature delivery.
When should I start taking folic acid?
It is best to start taking it one month before you start trying to conceive, as the foetus’ nervous system develops during the first four weeks of gestation.
What foods are rich in folic acid?
Foods which contain the highest amounts of folic acid are green vegetables. Green beans, spinach, broccoli, chard… these foods are all excellent sources of this vitamin.
Cow liver, sunflower seeds and legumes are also important sources of folic acid, so combining these foods with vegetables is a good option.
In terms of beverages, natural orange juice and alcohol‑free beer are at the top of the list of drinks with the highest amount of this vitamin. We recommend considering these choices if you’re looking to feel refreshed!