So often, women start seriously thinking about what they eat after they get pregnant. However, the best chances of fertility success, and having a healthy pregnancy, are to eat well, and get the necessary nutrients your body needs, before getting pregnant. This is one of the reasons we advocate Living a Clean Lifestyle before and while you’re trying to conceive.

Folic acid is one of those “necessary nutrients.”  A complex B-vitamin, folic acid is essential for a baby’s healthy brain, spinal cord and neural development. Women who are folic acid deficient are more prone to having babies with spina bifida, as well as other brain and/or neurological defects (called neural tube defects (NTDs). Also, recent research correlates folic acid deficiencies in the mother with a higher-risk of having a child diagnosed with autism and/or other language delays.

Each year, 3000 babies are born in the US with NTDs and doctors believe that adequate folic acid intake by the mother, particularly before and during pregnancy, would reduce that by 70% or more.

Consume at Least 400 Micrograms of Folic Acid Before You’re Pregnant

The CDC recommends that all women of childbearing age (15- to 45-years of age) consume at least 400 mcg of folic acid daily, and a basic daily vitamin typically does the trick (you’ll see folic acid amounts listed on nutrient labels on any vitamin bottles and/or food labels if contents include folic acid).

Why care about folic acid supplementation when you’re nowhere near pregnancy?

The large majority of pregnancies are unplanned and the large majority of birth defects take place during the first four weeks of gestation. Thus, women who aren’t getting enough of the nutrients they need, and experience an unplanned pregnant, are unwittingly depriving the developing fetus of the nutrients s/he needs for healthy development.

Once You’re Pregnant…

Once you find out you’re pregnant, doctors recommend taking a prenatal vitamin between 400 mcg and 600 mcg of folic acid – depending on your diet (more on that below). This ensures that both you and baby get all the folic acid you need. Never exceed 1000 mcg of folic acid per day unless your doctor prescribes it for a specific reason. Over-supplementation is never a good thing.

While Breastfeeding…

Once you’re breastfeeding, you can drop back down to between the 400 mcg and 500 mcg amount, since folic acid helps to support red blood cell production, cell regeneration and to synthesize DNA – among other things.

Increase Intake of Foods That Contain Folic Acid

The best way to absorb folic acid is through your diet and digestive system. Thus, it’s always good to prioritize healthy eating habits, emphasizing the inclusion of foods that have higher folic acid content. This includes:

  • Fortified breads and cerealsfolic acid
  • Lentils and beans (black, pinto, etc.)
  • Cornmeal and wheat flour
  • White rice
  • Leafy greens
  • Asparagus
  • Broccoli
  • Peanuts
  • Citrus fruits, specifically oranges and grapefruit

What’s My Risk of Having a Baby with Neural Tube Defects (NTDs)?

Sometimes, NTDs are random, and we just aren’t sure what causes them. However, some women are more prone to having a baby with an NTD. Your risk is elevated if:

  • You or someone in your family has an NTD
  • Your partner or someone in his family has an NTD
  • You or your partner have had a child with an NTD in the past
  • You’re obese
  • Have diabetes
  • Take certain anti-seizure medications

Once you know you’re pregnant, schedule a prenatal appointment with Overlake. Our OBs and/or midwives will review your medical history and lifestyle so we can make personalized recommendations for a healthy, full-term pregnancy, labor and delivery.