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Folic Acid before and during pregnancy

Anyone who is pregnant or is planning to become pregnant has probably heard of "folic acid." But what is it? Where does it come from? And why is it so important during pregnancy?

Folic acid, also known as Folate or Folacin, is actually a B vitamin. B9 to be exact. This vitamin is especially necessary during periods of rapid cell division, which is one of the defining characteristics of pregnancy. Folic acid is also important to the production of red blood cells, which helps prevent anemia during pregnancy. Probably its most important pregnancy application, though, is that it protects against neural tube defects.

The neural tube forms during the first few weeks of pregnancy and will eventually develop into the fetus' nervous system. If a pregnant woman does not have enough folic acid in her system during this period of development, there is an increased risk of abnormalities in the baby's spine, brain and, skull. In fact, studies have found a direct link between folic acid deficiency during pregnancy and neural tube defects in newborns.

The latest take on folic acid is that all women should be taking a supplement during their childbearing years. That way, should a woman become pregnant, the safeguard against neural tube defects is already in place. So take note: A folic acid supplement should definitely be on your pre-pregnancy checklist and should be something that you continue with once you have become pregnant.

The recommended daily dose of folic acid for a woman who is not pregnant is 400 micrograms. However, once a woman becomes pregnant, the recommended dose rises to 600-800 micrograms per day. And let me just say that a multivitamin with that much folic acid is not easy to find. Believe me, I've looked. An over-the-counter prenatal vitamin will most likely contain more folic acid than your dime-a-dozen daily multivitamin, which is better than nothing. But if you are seriously considering becoming pregnant, it's best to talk to your doctor and get a prescription prenatal vitamin that will contain the recommended 600-800 micrograms of folic acid.

In addition to a supplement, it is important to include foods high in folic acid in your diet. And you don't necessarily have to go to a special health food store to find them. You might be surprised at some of the common foods that contain this super-vitamin, and maybe you already include some of them in your regular diet.

Here are some that top the list:

Green leafy vegetables. When you're expecting, it's especially important to go green! Leafy vegetables like spinach, collard greens, and lettuce (preferably the dark kind, like romaine) are high in folic acid and iron, both of which are essential during pregnancy.

Legumes. This one might not ring any bells initially, but "legume" is really just a fancy word for beans and peas. So if you're hunting for natural sources of folic acid, next time you head to the grocery store throw some peas, lentils, beans, or peanuts into the cart.

Liver. Okay, so it's not the most popular item on the list, but it fills the folic acid quota nonetheless. Liver is yet another high iron/high folic acid food.

Grains. Once the link between neural tube defects and folic acid deficiency was uncovered, many countries (including the United States) began pushing for folic acid fortification in common foods, mostly grains. As a result, the plain old flour, bread, corn meal, and many breakfast cereals that you find on the shelves contain an increased amount of folic acid. So during pregnancy, when you have the munchies, grab a bowl of cereal, and don't feel guilty about it!



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