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Preventing Birth Defects – National Folic Acid Awareness Week

Are you pregnant? Are you thinking of becoming pregnant soon? Folic acid should already be a part of your daily prenatal care to help prevent birth defects of the spine and brain (neural tube defects). The Center for Disease Control and Prevention says as many as 50 to 70 percent of neural tube defects could be prevented if women took 400 mcg of folic acid before and up to 800 mcg during their pregnancy each day. However, with half of all pregnancies unplanned, health care providers hope National Folic Acid Awareness Week sheds light on the need for women of childbearing age to take folic acid daily.

Taking folic acid at least one month prior to pregnancy and the first three months of pregnancy is the most crucial time for preventing neural tube defects, as they can occur often before a woman discovers she is pregnant. Due to the nature of the complexity of this vitamin and the way in which it interacts with the body, a supplement is the most effective, although, not the only way to get folic acid, also known as folate, in your diet.

Folic Acid in Food

Folic acid is also found in the food supply, through the 1998 FDA mandate that certain foods be fortified with folic acid, such as cereals, breads, rice, and pasta. In 2012, a petition by several medical groups asked the FDA to broaden the mandate to include foods such as tortillas, and other corn masa products to address the increased risk for Hispanic women to deliver babies with neural tube defects. 

Folate is also found naturally in some foods. Romaine lettucespinachasparagus, turnip greens, and mustard greens are listed as excellent sources of folate, with the highest nutrient content for caloric count per serving. For more foods listed as great sources of folate, click here.

Preconception Health

Along with building more awareness of the importance of taking a daily folic acid supplement at least one month prior to and during pregnancy, it is a woman’s overall preconception health that helps support a healthy pregnancy. Experts say the most important things you can do to improve yourpreconception health include:

Stop smoking.

Limit alcohol use.

Stop drug use.

Ask your health care provider about prescription drug use.

Make sure medical conditions, such as diabetes, asthma, obesity, or epilepsy are properly controlled. (Recent research finds less than half of women with epilepsy who may become pregnant are taking folic acid.)

Avoid toxic substances at work and home.

Avoid cat and rodent feces.

If you are thinking of becoming pregnant, now is the time to talk to your health care provider about your preconception health to make sure you are doing everything you can for a healthy pregnancy for you and your baby. If you are pregnant, make sure you are taking the daily recommended amount of folic acid and following your health care provider’s prenatal care plan.

For more information on Hillcrest Pregnancy Care Centers, click here