When I found out that we were pregnant, my first worry (and one that I carried out throughout my pregnancy) was that I didn’t start taking my Folic Acid supplements soon enough. Back then, I didn’t know much about its importance except that it helps prevent neurological disorders in the growing baby. It was only when I got my pregnancy reading material in place that I realised how much it helps during pregnancy.
Why take Folic Acid Supplements?
Folic Acid is basically a type of Vitamin B. As our body does not produce this vitamin, we need to acquire it through our diet or other supplements. It is found in leafy vegetables, legumes and eggs.
Our current urban lifestyle that includes an increased intake of processed foods, chemically treated vegetables and many lifestyle disorders make it a little difficult to gain the required amount of folic acid through natural sources.
No matter how balanced natural and organic you keep your diet, you can never be sure of the amount of folic acid you are getting. To avoid such nutritional uncertainties, doctors often prescribe folic acid supplements (along with iron and calcium) to pregnant women.
What are the Benefits of Folic Acid Supplements?
Many call folic acid the ‘superhero’ of pregnancy. Here is why:
- Helps make more Red Blood Cells
- Helps with the synthesis and development of DNA and RNA
- Aids rapid cell division and growth
- Prevents the fetus from developing congenital deformities
- Essential for the development of the spinal cord of the fetus
- Prevents Neural Tube Abnormalities in the growing fetus
- Reduces the chances for facial clefts
How much folic Acid does a pregnant woman need?
Women who have a history of genetic disorders in their family, often need more folic acid intake than others. Similarly the to-be mother’s physical health condition can also influence the amount of folic acid prescribed. Generally speaking, around 400 micrograms of folic acid is prescribed commonly during pregnancy.
Folic acid intake is focused upon before pregnancy (when you start planning a family) and during early pregnancy. The truth though is, that it is important even in the last trimester, particularly among Indian women.
So a consistent and doctor approved dosage of folic acid is important for a healthy pregnancy.
Folic Acid and Facial Clefts
A lot is said about the other benefits of Folic Acid, but even though nearly 35000 children are born with Cleft palates every year [¹] ; very little is spoken about this to expectant parents and the public in general.
What causes clefting in the fetus is not clearly known because a very complex genetic and environmental (mother’s health included) factors influence its presence/absence. However, what is known is that a good amount of folic acid intake regularly that takes into account your personal and family medical history and physical health is one of the ways to minimise its occurance.
Cleft lips or cleft palates can be diagnosed early and most often surgically reversed to a great extent during infancy.
What goes unnoticed by many is that basic information on this is unavailable to most. Our nationwide Diagnostic Abilities are limited, especially in rural areas. Even today there is a lot of stigma and myth associated with this condition.
I was shocked to find that orofacial clefting (a split or opening in the lip and/or roof of the mouth) is not even covered under the Right of Persons with Physical Disabilities Act of 2016. This comes as a shocker when one knows that cleft affects a person’s speaking abilities. In children it makes it difficult for them to take food properly, particularly in the early days of their lives.
The role of non-governmental organisations in the field of prevention of such birth conditions among children ranges from generating awareness to generating the resources to combat them. You can read more about one such programme that is setting an example for us all here.
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A lot of development and growth happens for the baby during your early pregnancy. The process of their development inside you is so complex that it is easy to feel overwhelmed or even scared for the life growing inside you.
While everything is never always in your control; there are many easy steps to take care of yourself and the baby, and the easiest one among them is to speak to your doctor and make sure you take enough folic acid before and during your pregnancy.
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