Each trimester certain nutrients become very important for the baby's development. One particular nutrient that you shouldn't ignore is folic acid from the family of B-vitamins; this vitamin prevents birth defects in a developing baby. Ideally this vitamin should be taken 3 months before conception to ensure a healthy start and be continued for a further 3 months.
- In the early weeks, the embryo develops 3 layers of cells of which the outer layer will form the neutral tube; from this the brain, spinal cord, nervous system, ears and eyes develop.
- Poor development will cause baby to be born with a neural tube defect (NTD) such as spina bifida (in layman's terms it is known as split spine). Babies born with severe spina bifida may not be able to walk and will face bowel and bladder problems.
- Another merit point to consider is it aids in cell division and in the formation of red blood cells for both mother and baby.
- It also lowers the risk of growth restriction and increases birth weight of baby in the later part of pregnancy, thereby lowering the odds of premature birth, and even preeclampsia.
- Some research seems to point to folic preventing the incidence of Down's syndrome, though it is not conclusive.
- A deficiency in this nutrient causes anemia in the mother, leaving her fatigued most of the time.
How much is enough..
Women who are trying to conceive should take 400mcg daily for at least a month before conceiving and continue for the first three months of pregnancy. If you decide to continue with this vitamin through the end of your term is even better. It is naturally found in leafy greens and green beans but it is difficult to acquire folate from natural food sources; supplements become essential to combat this insufficiency. Folic acid levels can be labeled in these ways; if you are not sure check with your doctor the level that is suitable now for you.
- 400 mcg (micrograms)
- 0.4 mg (milligrams)
- 400 mg (international units)
Check your multivitamin label to ensure the correct dosage of this vitamin. Don't be tempted to take more than the recommended dose unless advised by your doctor. Women who need higher doses fall in the following category:
- Have had a previous pregnancy affected by NTD
- Have NTD themselves
- Have a family history
- Have a partner with a family history of NTDs
You will be advised to take 5 mg of this vitamin if any of the above applies to you. The sensible thing to do is take your supplements along with foods rich in folate. Examples of such foods:
- Green leafy vegetables especially spinach, broccoli, asparagus
- Other vegetables such as green beans, cabbage, peas, cauliflower, avocado
- Oranges and other citrus fruits
- Breakfast cereals fortified with this vitamin
- Eggs, lentils, kidney beans, chick peas, baked beans
- Yoghurt & milk
If you are a Vegetarian..
Five good sources of folate:
- Chickpeas curry
- Mixed bean salad
- Broccoli and cheese quiche
- Mixed nuts roast
- Vegetable biryani
Cress tomatoes, green and red peppers, lettuce and avocado all have some folate in them. Mix these and fix yourself a bowl of salad.
Folate levels decrease if vegetable and fruits are kept or stored so use them fresh. Cooking destroys them; washing destroys the nutrient value as well. The key to maximizing the folate levels:
- Store vegetables in the fridge and use them soon after you buy them
- Serve them raw (uncooked)
- Cooking methods should be - steam, boil or simmer