Folic Acid for Healthy Mothers and Babies
May 6, 2003
When celebrating motherhood this month we need to remember the key role that nutrition plays in helping mothers give birth to healthy babies.
Folic acid is a B vitamin that is critical in preventing certain birth defects of the brain and spinal cord called neural tube defects (or NTDs). NTDs can result in babies being born with spines, brains or skulls that aren’t completely developed.
"Neural tube disorders occur in the first month of pregnancy, before most women know they are pregnant. Approximately 2,500 babies are born with NTDs each year in the U.S. That is why the National Academy of Sciences recommends all women get 400 micrograms (mcg) of folic acid every day. Pregnant women should get 600 mcg daily," says Nancy Hill, Nutritional Consultant for the Family, Maternal and Child Health Programs of Contra Costa Health Services.
Hill encourages women to get most of their folic acid in their diets. Beans, lentils and peas are rich in folic acid, as are orange juice, spinach, broccoli, asparagus and brussel sprouts. Cereals, bread, rice and pasta that are "enriched" or "fortified" are also good sources of folic acid.
"The March of Dimes also recommends women take a daily multivitamin pill with 400 mcg of folic acid in it. This, in addition to the folic acid we get in a healthy diet, should provide us with our daily requirement of the vitamin," says Hill.
Hill says besides preventing NTDs, folic acid is important throughout pregnancy because it helps pregnant women produce the additional blood cells they need and supports the growth of the placenta and fetus. In addition, studies suggest that folic acid may prevent some other birth defects such as cleft lip and palate.
According to Hill, folic acid has many other benefits beyond preventing birth defects. Women and men of all ages need folic acid every day to maintain good health. Recent studies suggest that folic acid may help prevent heart disease, cervical cancer and colon cancer in women and heart disease and colon cancer in men. "The National Academy of Sciences recommends that men get 400 mcg of folic acid as well," she adds.
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