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Folic Acid During Pregnancy Helps To Prevent Birth Defects

January 2, 2017 | By Abigail Willett, student intern with Community Outreach
Published in: Nurses Health Corner, Nutrition, Pregnancy

Sleeping baby

Thanks to continuing developments in medicine; new medications, procedures, and technologies, we are now living longer and healthier lives than ever before. This rise in quality and longevity of life has been extended to every walk of life as we continue to make significant medical improvements, to include the 1 in every 33 US children born every year with a birth defect.

Birth defects are all too common, costly, and serious conditions. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), every 4½ minutes a baby is born with a birth defect. In the time it takes you to read this article, approximately 3 babies will have been born and diagnosed with some sort of defect that will affect how their body works, looks, or both.

January 3rd – 9th is National Folic Acid Awareness Week. Folic acid is a B vitamin that is necessary for normal bodily growth and developments helping your body make red blood cells. These red blood cells carry oxygen from your lungs to the rest of your body. The CDC and the Public Health Services recommend that all women between the ages of 15-44 consume 400 micrograms (mcg) of folic acid per day. Why? Research has shown that 400 mcg of folic acid daily can help to prevent brain, spine, heart, or oral birth defects, as well as neural tube defects (NTDs), when taken in the early stages of pregnancy.

container of multivitaminsYou can get folic acid from multivitamins, which most contain the daily amount recommended. Many foods contain natural sources of folic acid, or folate. Some folate containing foods include lentils, pinto beans, black beans, leafy greens such as spinach and romaine, asparagus, broccoli, peanuts, oranges, grapefruits, and other citruses. Cereals, breads, rice, flours, and pasta can also be enriched or "fortified", meaning they have folic acid added to them. Ultimately, it is suggested that all women, especially those trying to get pregnant, try to get their folic acid from both vitamins and the foods they eat on a regular basis.

If all women were to get the suggested amount of folic acid in the early stages of pregnancy, up to 7 in 10, or 70%, of all NTDs could be prevented. Again, January 3-9 is National Folic Acid Awareness Week, which is part of the National Birth Defects Prevention Month campaign. Bringing awareness to this potentially life-enhancing birth defect prevention method is important and can drastically enhance the lives of hundreds of unborn babies and their families this year.

For more information of folic acid and the Folic Acid Awareness campaign, check out:

Information provided by Abigail Willett, student intern with Community Outreach.