Friday, January 23, 2015

Preparing for Pregnancy: Folate

NaturalGuy and I plan on having kids in the next few years, and we'd like to be as ready as possible. In addition to the general requirements of good health, women planning on getting pregnant have a few extra things to think about, and folate is one of these.

What is folate and why should I take it?
Folate, also called folic acid, is a B vitamin that plays a role in creating new cells. In adults, it is linked to heart health and the prevention of cancer. In pregnancy, healthy levels of folate dramatically decrease the risk of neural tube birth defects, such as spina bifida and anencephaly. Spina bifida occurs when the unborn baby's spinal column does not close around the spinal cord correctly. Because the spinal cord is not properly protected, nerve damage often occurs, leading to lifelong disabilities. Anencephaly occurs when the most or all of the brain does not develop, and is almost always fatal. According to the Spina Bifida Association, supplementing with folic acid before and during pregnancy can reduce the risk of neural tube defects by up to 70%.

Why should I start taking it now, when I'm not even planning on getting pregnant?
The most important thing to know about folate is that it is critical to have healthy levels before you become pregnant, since it is very important even in the first weeks of pregnancy before you know you are pregnant. The CDC recommends that all women of childbearing age consume 400 micrograms of folic acid/day, even if they do not plan on getting pregnant. Women who are at higher risk of having children with neural tube defects (because of previous children or relatives effected by neural tube defects) should talk to their doctor about taking higher doses of folic acid in early pregnancy.

How can I make sure to consume enough folate?
There are many foods which are naturally high in folate, including many types of beans, lentils, spinach and dark green leafy vegetables. However, the CDC notes that many women do not consume enough folate from these sources (or have trouble absorbing it), and recommends that women also supplement with fortified foods, such as cereal and bread (check the label!), or a daily vitamin.

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