Focus on folic acid
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