Thinking about getting pregnant?
Begin taking a multi-vitamin with 400 micrograms (mcg) of folic acid at least 3 months before you start trying!
Women who get 400 micrograms (mcg) of folic acid every day at least 3 months before they get pregnant decrease their risk of having a baby with a neural tube defect (NTD) by 50-70%. NTDs are defects of the brain and spine.
The most common NTDs are:
- Spina bifida (spinal cord doesn’t fully close)
- Anencephaly (under-developed brain)
- Encephalocele (brain sticks out of skull)
Other NTDs can make it difficult for a baby to run or play. Click here to see some photos of babies who were born with NTDs.
All of these problems happen during the first month of pregnancy, before most women knows they are pregnant. The above video, from Go Folic! UK, explains why it’s so important to take a daily multi-vitamin with folic acid for at least 3 months before getting pregnant.
50% of all pregnancies in the U.S. are unplanned. That’s why it’s so important for all women to, in the words of our friends at Go Folic! UK, “Folic before you frolic!”
Other Pregnancy Benefits of Folic Acid
While more research is needed, recent studies have found that folic acid supplements and having higher levels of folate in the blood during pregnancy may decrease the risks for:
- Having a baby with a cleft palate;
- Being born with defects of the heart and urinary tract;
- Having a low birth weight baby (baby who is too small);
- Preterm (early) labor.
Folic Acid and low birth weight / prematurity
In California, 1 in 12 babies are born too early. One recent study found that women who take folic acid for at least a year before they get pregnant may reduce their risk for premature (early) labor. Babies born before 37 weeks are not yet fully developed. Some babies who are born too early don’t live. Those who do survive often have serious life-long problems like:
- Blindness or deafness
- Lung, heart or liver problems
- Retardation or learning disabilities
- Difficulty eating
- Cerebral palsy
- Tsunenobu Tamura and Mary Frances Picciano, 2006, “Folate and human reproduction,” Am J Clin Nutr May 2006vol. 83 no. 5 993-1016, http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/83/5/993.full
- NIH Office of Dietary Supplements, April 2009. Dietary Supplement Fact Sheet: Folate from http://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Folate-HealthProfessional/
Other Steps to a Healthy Pregnancy
Your health before you get pregnant is the most important factor in having a healthy baby. This is called “preconception” (before pregnancy) and “inter conception” (between pregnancies) health.
Before you become pregnant you want to be sure that your mind, body, and environment are healthy. In addition to taking a daily multi-vitamin with folic acid, other things to think about include:
- Eating nutritious meals;
- Getting regular exercise;
- Avoiding alcohol, tobacco and other drugs;
- Getting plenty of sleep;
- Avoiding toxins and certain medications;
- Managing any chronic diseases such as diabetes or depression.
It’s also important to that your relationships are positive and can help you handle the stresses of pregnancy and parenthood.
If that sounds like a lot, it is! But friends, family, and your health provider can help. Aren’t you worth it?
Info on Preconception Health
Download our brochure, “A Woman’s Guide to Preventing or Planning a Pregnancy:”
The California Department of Public Health’s website, Every Woman California, provides comprehensive and easy-to-follow guidelines to ensure the health of all reproductive-age women.