Every woman naturally pays special attention to her diet and lifestyle as soon as she discovers she is pregnant. While it’s important to eat healthy during pregnancy, it is particularly important to eat foods that provide all the necessary nutrients necessary to ensure normal development of the baby and the mother’s good health.
Folic acid is one such essential nutrient that is required right from the pre-conception period until the first trimester. Let us take a look at what folic acid is and the role it plays in ensuring a healthy pregnancy and baby.
Folic acid and its benefits
Folic acid is also known as folacin or folate. It is a B vitamin that naturally occurs in certain foods. It works along with vitamin B12 in generating healthy red blood cells in our body. Folic acid is essential for the healthy development of the unborn baby’s brain, spine and skull.
It is known to reduce the chances of the unborn baby developing neural tube defects likespina bifida. Spina bifida is a birth defect wherein the spine of the baby remains under-developed, causing some severe physical disabilities including paralysis.Folic acid can also help prevent many other birth defects like cleft palate (cleft lip) and heart defects by as much as 70%.
When you need it most?
It is during the first trimester (first 12 weeks) of pregnancy that your baby’s brain and nervous system are developing. It happens at a very fast pace and so makes it very vital that you have folic acid rich foods along with folic acid supplements during this time.
Majority of women have an unplanned pregnancy and do not realise they are pregnant until 4 – 6 weeks into their pregnancy. By this time most of the vital organs in the foetus have already begun to form. That is why, doctors recommend women of reproductive age and those trying for a baby to have a folic acid rich diet.
Foods rich in folic acid are:
- Oranges/ orange juice
- Hard boiled eggs
- Lean red meats
- Brown rice
- Black-eyed beans
- Green leafy vegetables
- Folic enriched foods like whole grain bread and cereals
(Talk to your obstetrician or pregnancy dietician for further advice)
Points to remember
- Do not boil vegetables as this dissolves the folic content in them. Steam or microwave instead.
- Overcooking vegetables can also destroy folate content.
- Ensure that you eat your multivitamins just before/after your meals to improve absorption.
- If you are going through any other medical treatment like that of epilepsy, diabetes, blood pressure, etc., consult your doctor to know how it can affect your pregnancy.
- Folic acid deficiency can cause anaemia.
- Folic acid rich foods alone cannot fulfil the daily requirement of folic acid during pregnancy and so, supplements recommended by your obstetrician should be taken on a daily basis.
After you have crossed your first trimester, you can discontinue eating folic acid supplements. However, there is no harm in continuing with the prescription even in the following trimesters.