The 9 months of pregnancy are very precious. During these months, you will share a special bond with your baby. You might notice that you are thinking about your baby at every moment. What is your baby doing? Is your baby getting enough food? Is he/she growing properly? Will he/she be healthy?
At these times, you should know that your food and lifestyle is very important for your baby's growth. You should eat healthy food and lead an active lifestyle so that your baby is born healthy and without any complications.
One of the most important vitamins that your baby needs for growing well is folic acid. In this blog, you can learn about folic acid, why you need folic acid in pregnancy, its benefits, risks of low folic acid and the foods that are rich in folic acid.
What is folic acid?
Blood transports oxygen and energy to all parts of the body. With less blood, your organs won't be able to function properly. To produce blood, your body needs vitamin B9.
We get vitamin B9 in the form of folates in our food. If your diet does not include enough folates, doctors usually prescribe folic acid tablets. Folic acid is a good source of folates.
Why do you need folic acid in pregnancy?
In pregnancy, you are eating food for yourself and your baby. Whatever you eat should have the right nutrients that are required for your baby's growth. Folic acid is very important for the development of your baby's brain, spine and nervous system. So, you need to have more folic acid in pregnancy.
When should you take folic acid in pregnancy?
Your baby's growth and development begins from day 1 of conception. This means that by the time you find out that you are pregnant, your baby would have already started developing in your womb. In general, women find out that they are pregnant only after 4-5 weeks, usually after noticing a delay in their monthly period. So, doctors say that women should start taking folic acid tablets from the time they plan for pregnancy. Folic acid can also increase the chances of becoming pregnant.
Your friends or relatives might have started telling you to take folic acid tablets as soon as you gave them the good news that you are pregnant. But remember, only your doctor can tell you whether you need folic acid tablets or not. If your regular diet already has foods that have enough folates, you might not have to take folic acid tablets.
Folic acid tablets are usually prescribed by doctors in the first trimester of pregnancy itself. Over the 9 months of your pregnancy, your dosage can increase or decrease depending on your diet.
Take folic acid tablets/supplements only on your doctor's advice. Based on your body and your diet, your doctor will be able to tell you how much folic acid you will need daily
How much folic acid should you take during pregnancy?
Every month, women lose a lot of blood during the monthly period. Our body recovers from this blood loss by producing more blood. As you already know by now, folic acid helps in producing blood in the body. So, folic acid can be taken before pregnancy as well.
During pregnancy, your body will need even more folates, because your baby also needs it for nutrition. If your food does not provide enough folates, your doctor might prescribe you 400 mcg (micrograms) of folic acid for the first trimester and 600 mcg for the second and third trimester.
What are the symptoms of low folic acid in pregnancy?
Low folic acid in the body can be easily found out if you have any of these following symptoms:
- Too much vomiting
- Not feeling hungry
- Not able to sleep
- Having tension or stress
- Feeling tired or weak
- Stomach pain or gas in the stomach
If you have any of these symptoms, consult your doctor. Even if it is not because of less folic acid, it is always good to find out any other problems as soon as possible.
How will folic acid help you and your baby?
Folic acid has a lot of benefits, for both you and your baby. Here's how folic acid can help you be healthy:
- Less chance of premature delivery or miscarriage
- Less chance of getting anemia during pregnancy
- Less chance of complications like preeclampsia and heart problems
Even your baby will become more healthy if you have folic acid regularly. Here's how folic acid helps your baby:
- Helps in forming your baby's DNA and placenta
- Helps in the growth of your baby's brain and spine
- Less chance of having any genetic defects or birth defects like cleft lip, cleft palate, spina bifida and anencephaly
What are the risks of not taking enough folic acid?
All doctors prescribe folic acid in pregnancy. Folic acid is necessary for both the mother and the baby. Here, we have mentioned some of the risks you might face if your folic acid intake is less:
Risk to the mother - If you do not have enough folic acid in your daily diet, your body will not be able to produce red blood cells. As your blood provides nutrients to feed your baby, your body might not be able to produce more blood during this time. This can lead to low blood in your body, or, anemia. Anemia can lead to many complications like premature delivery and depression after delivery (postpartum depression).
Risk to the baby - If you do not have enough folic acid in pregnancy, your baby's growth can get affected. Your baby might get born with defects, diseases or complications. Some of these are:
Baby will be born underweight - If you have less folic acid in pregnancy, your baby might be born underweight. This can cause your baby to have many health conditions like diabetes, high BP (blood pressure) or heart disease later in life.
Spina bifida - Folic acid is necessary for the development of your baby's spinal cord and nervous system. One rare defect that may happen because of less folic acid is Spina Bifida. In this defect, the baby's spinal cord does not develop properly in the womb. This results in some extra growth on the baby's back, which can lead to many complications after birth. Don't worry about spina bifida. This is a very rare condition. By taking enough folic acid in pregnancy, you can prevent this from happening to your baby.
Anencephaly - Less folic acid in your body can also affect the growth of your baby's brain. Anencephaly is a rare birth defect in which some parts of the baby's brain might be missing or underdeveloped. Babies with anencephaly live for only a few days. This is also a very rare condition and you can easily avoid it by taking your folic acid medicines regularly.
Don't worry about these risks at all. As long as you eat nutritious food and take your medicines regularly, you will avoid all complications and give birth to a healthy and happy baby.
What foods to eat to increase folic acid?
Apart from the folic acid tablets, many food items are also good sources of folic acid. During pregnancy, you can eat these food items to fill your folic acid needs more naturally.
- Green vegetables like palak, cabbage, beans
- Legumes like chana, sprouts, peas
- Dal, rajma
- beetroot, mushroom
- Egg yolk (yellow part of an egg)
- Milk and milk products
What are the side effects of folic acid?
During pregnancy, only take folic acid tablets as prescribed by your doctor. Like any other medicine, taking folic acid in higher quantities is not good. Your body might not be able to adjust to it, and you might have many side-effects such as:
- Itching all over the body
- Feeling breathless
- Stomachache or gas in the stomach
As you have read in this blog, folic acid is necessary for your good health and for the proper development of your baby. Only take the folic acid tablets in the right quantity after consulting your doctor. By taking folic acid even before your pregnancy, you can avoid many complications and have a safe delivery and a healthy baby.