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How Early Should I Start Taking Folic Acid?

How Early Should I Start Taking Folic Acid?


Some women think they only need to start taking folic acid once they become pregnant, but in reality any woman of childbearing age should be taking a folic acid supplement on a daily basis. Over half of all pregnancies are unplanned, so it's not always possible to predict when you will conceive. Folic acid helps with the fetus' growth and development in the womb, and without the proper amount your baby is at a much higher risk of developing abnormalities of the brain and spine.

The most common defects are spina bifida and anencephaly, which occur within the first few weeks of development. Spina bifida is a result of the spine fusing improperly, while anencephaly is a developmental disorder that leads to infant death as most of the brain is missing at birth. If your child is born with spina bifida, the spine will protrude from the skin and will need to be surgically closed after delivery. Your child will have some level of paralysis, and may suffer from bowel and bladder control problems, cognitive difficulties, weakness and pain.

By the time you realize you are pregnant, your baby could have already come a long way in terms of development. It could be too late to prevent neural tube defects, even if you start taking folic acid as soon as you confirm your pregnancy. You should begin taking folic acid at least one month before you plan on conceiving, to decrease these risks. If you find out you are pregnant before you start taking folic acid, consult your doctor right away.

A good prenatal vitamin will contain folic acid, so talk to your physician about the supplement that is right for you. Depending on your health, you may need more or less folic acid, but usually women need at least 400 micrograms each day.

You can also get folic acid in a variety of healthy foods. Vegetables like spinach, citrus fruits and beans are all excellent sources of folic acid. Enriched cereals, pastas and breads also contain folic acid. Although you can balance your diet with meals high in folic acid, you should still take a supplement.

If you choose to undergo genetic testing while pregnant, a blood test or ultrasound will show if your baby has certain neural tube defects. In the case of spina bifida, there are some precautions that your physician can take during labor and delivery to minimize damage to the baby's spine and hopefully lessen the severity of the disorder.

 


 
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