Need for folic acid

Need for folic acid

Vitamins, minerals, protein, fibre and carbohydrates — a mother-to-be needs all of this twice as much as she did before pregnancy. What she also needs is adequate folic acid in her diet.

Folic acid is a man-made form of vitamin B that helps your body produce and maintain new cells, and also helps prevent changes to DNA that may lead to cancer. It helps your baby's neural tube develop into her brain and spinal cord.

Also known as folate, the vitamin can help prevent serious health complications in the baby and the mother in the first few weeks of pregnancy, before the woman even knows she is pregnant.

Birth defects occur in the first trimester. Hence, taking folic acid from three months prior to pregnancy till the fourth month is essential to prevent neural tube defects (NTDs) i.e. serious birth defects of the spinal cord and brain of the infant. Therefore, when a woman is planning to have a baby, she should start consuming foods rich in folic acid.

Foods like spinach, broccoli, sunflower seeds, black beans, fresh orange juice, peanuts, lentils and whole-wheat cereals contain folic acid. Apart from natural foods, doctors also recommend five-milligram tablets as daily supplements.

If the advisable level of folic acid is not maintained, not only will the health of the child be at risk, the mother may also develop anaemia.

Adequate folic acid can reduce the risk of various complications in the child, including cleft lip and palate, premature birth, poor growth in the womb, miscarriage. The mother can protect herself from heart disease, anaemia, stroke and Alzheimer’s disease.

(The author is gynaecologist, Columbia Asia Hospital, Whitefield)

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