Pregnant? Make Sure You're Getting Folic Acid - Crozer-Keystone Health System - PA

Published on January 09, 2015

Pregnant? Make Sure You're Getting Folic Acid

Crozer-Keystone Health SystemMedia Contact:
Mary Wascavage
(610) 284-8619
Mary.Wascavage@crozer.org

When pregnant, important to carefully consider the foods you’re consuming and make sure you’re taking in foods that are nutrient dense.

Folic acid, also called folate, is a critical B
vitamin complex to include in any
pregnancy diet.

Eating a healthy and balanced diet is always an important part of making sure you are getting the proper amount of vitamins and minerals your body needs. This becomes even more important when a woman becomes pregnant.

Although some women view pregnancy as a free pass to eat whatever they want, it’s actually more important to carefully consider the foods you’re consuming and make sure you’re taking in foods that are nutrient dense.

One vitamin in particular pregnant women need to make sure they’re getting enough of is folic acid. Folic acid, which is also called folate, is a B vitamin complex.

“Folic acid is needed for neural tube development,” said Tameka Sisco , D.O., a Crozer-Keystone obstetrician and gynecologist. Not only does consuming folic acid help prevent birth defects of your baby’s brain and spinal cord, it also plays a role in the production of red blood cells.

Without enough folic acid, a baby’s neural tube may not close correctly, leading to the development of health problems called neural tube defects, which include spina bifida and anencephaly. The good news is that getting enough folic acid during pregnancy can protect a baby from these birth defects by 50 percent.

“For neural tube defects prevention, [a daily intake of] 0.4 to 0.8 milligrams of folic acid is required one month prior to conception and for the first two to three months after conception. Then 0.6 milligrams is recommended to meet the growth needs of the fetus,” Dr. Sisco said.

However, if you have had a previous child with neural tube defects or if you’re taking anticonvulsant medications, you’ll need a higher dose – Dr. Sisco recommends you get 4 to 5 milligrams of folic acid.

You can find naturally-occurring folic acid in a variety of foods, including spinach and leafy greens, citrus fruits, beans and whole grains. There are also a number of foods such as breakfast cereals that are enriched with folic acid.

“A lot of foods are now fortified with folic acid, but most [mothers] supplement through a prenatal vitamin,” Dr. Sisco stated. Taking a prenatal vitamin also ensures you and your baby are receiving all of the other vitamins and minerals you need.

“The most important vitamins to take in pregnancy are the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K. As far as minerals, calcium, phosphorus, zinc, iron and selenium are the most important. Calcium and iron are important for bone and red blood cells,” she explained, adding that too much vitamin A can be harmful to a fetus.

Although it might seem confusing and overwhelming thinking about all of the vitamins and minerals you need during pregnancy, Dr. Sisco said that it’s actually not all that complicated.

“Women who typically eat three meals daily consisting of several servings of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, low-fat dairy products and a few sources of protein are likely to have adequate nutrition,” she stated.

And if you happen to fall into the group of women looking forward to eating more during pregnancy, go for it – you need about 200 to 300 extra calories per day. But, according to Dr. Sisco, you should up the ante as your pregnancy progresses.

“The recommended caloric intake is increased in the second trimester by 340 and 452 in the last trimester,” she explained.

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