Month two

Fo­cus on folic acid

Your Pregnancy - - Contents -

ONE OF THE FIRST

things you prob­a­bly did when you found out you were preg­nant was to take a good look at your diet to make sure you’re get­ting enough nu­tri­ents for the two of you. Yes, hav­ing a healthy baby starts with hav­ing a healthy mom. En­sur­ing you take in enough folic acid is part of this.

WHAT IS FOLIC ACID?

“Folic acid is a wa­ter-sol­u­ble vi­ta­min; it’s a vi­tal com­po­nent of DNA and is used to make red blood cells. Folic acid func­tions in ar­eas that are im­por­tant for proper foetal growth, as it’s needed for each cell to repli­cate prop­erly,” ex­plains di­eti­cian Nathalie Mat. “Folic acid re­quire­ments are es­pe­cially im­por­tant in the first four weeks of preg­nancy, dur­ing which time the neu­ral tube (the spine) closes. If you don’t have enough folic acid dur­ing that time, your baby may be born with a neu­ral tube de­fect, such as spina bi­fida or an­cephaly (where the brain does not de­velop prop­erly).” Also known as fo­late or vi­ta­min B9, folic acid can be found in dark green, leafy veg­eta­bles like spinach and broc­coli. Ad­di­tion­ally, some South African foods, such as wheat flour, bread and maize meal, are for­ti­fied with it to make sure we all get some of this im­por­tant nu­tri­ent. Fi­nally, a good rea­son to eat some carbs!

TAKE A SUP­PLE­MENT

The daily re­quire­ment of folic acid for an adult woman who’s not preg­nant is about 400mg, says Nathalie. “Preg­nancy in­creases the re­quire­ments for folic acid to around 600mg. While eat­ing for­ti­fied foods and green leafy veg­eta­bles can help, there are some women who may not be get­ting enough folic acid from their diet,” she ex­plains. “Sup­ple­men­ta­tion with a mul­ti­vi­ta­min dur­ing early preg­nancy that in­cludes at least 400mg of folic acid has been as­so­ci­ated with a de­creased risk of neu­ral tube de­fects, cleft palate and heart is­sues. Make sure that your preg­gie sup­ple­ment also in­cludes vi­ta­min B12, as folic acid sup­ple­men­ta­tion can de­crease the ef­fects of a B12 de­fi­ciency, thereby mask­ing it.”

THE EAR­LIER, THE BET­TER

A baby’s spine closes up be­tween 49 and 56 days in preg­nancy – around the time most women are only just re­al­is­ing they’re preg­nant! It’s for this rea­son that ex­perts rec­om­mend women take a daily sup­ple­ment that in­cludes 400mg of folic acid be­fore preg­nancy, while try­ing to con­ceive, just in case. Nathalie adds that any­one who has pre­vi­ously had a preg­nancy that in­cluded neu­ral tube de­fects, or if there’s a strong fam­ily his­tory of th­ese, will need to take even more folic acid. But, she cau­tions, don’t do this with­out speak­ing to your doc­tor or di­eti­cian first. They’ll need to work out the ex­act amounts you re­quire. If you’re ever con­cerned about your diet or get­ting enough nu­tri­tion dur­ing preg­nancy, chat to your doc­tor about it. The more ques­tions you ask, the more equipped you’ll be to make good choices for you and your baby.

FOLIC ACID IS A WA­TER-SOL­U­BLE VI­TA­MIN; IT’S A VI­TAL COM­PO­NENT OF DNA AND IS USED TO MAKE RED BLOOD CELLS

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