Increasing folic acid intake is recommended before and during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. Studies have shown that it can greatly reduce the chances of spina bifida and other neural tube defects in babies, as it ensures healthy development of the baby's spine, which takes place very soon after conception.
High in folic acid:
Medium in folic acid:
Food with added folic acid:
What Are the Risks?
Spina bifida and other neural tube defects are caused when the neural tube (which goes on to become the baby's spine), does not form properly. If a baby is born with spina bifida, one or two of the bones in the spine fail to develop properly and leave a gap, resulting in damage to the nerves and spinal cord. This can affect babies in different ways.
These defects can affect babies regardless of: the age of the mother, whether or not you already have healthy children, and even if spina bifida does not run in the family. Some evidence suggests that women with diabetes have increased risk of these defects.
How and When Should It Be Taken?
Folic acid should ideally be taken before conception and at least until the 12th week of pregnancy. However, do not worry if you are more that 12 weeks pregnant and have not taken folic acid. Remember that most babies are born in perfect health.
It is very difficult to get enough folic acid through the diet alone, as many foods lose their folic acid when food is stored for a long time, or through overcooking. The simplest way to ensure you get enough of this vitamin is through supplementation. It is recommended to take 400mcg of folic acid daily. This is available from pharmacies, health food stores and supermarkets.