Folic Acid for Your Family
By Spina Bifida Association of America
Neural tube defects (NTD), like spina bifida, occur during the first month of pregnancy before most women know they are pregnant. Studies have shown that the B vitamin folic acid may reduce the chances of having a child with a NTD by up to 75%. Since most pregnancies are not planned, it is important for all women who could become pregnant to take folic acid everyday. Besides helping with a healthy pregnancy, folic acid has been shown to have other benefits for both men and women in fighting heart disease.
How much do I need?
For most women, it is enough to take 0.4 milligrams (0.4 mg) of folic acid everyday. This amount can also be written as 400 micrograms (400 mcg). Other women who have a history of NTDs (eg. have a child with spina bifida or have spina bifida themselves) need to take ten-times more folic acid, 4.0 milligrams (4.0 mg), for one to three months before pregnancy and for the first few months of pregnancy because they are at higher risk for recurrence or having another child with spina bifida.
Sources of Folic Acid
Sources of folic acid include a multivitamin with synthetic folic acid and foods rich in natural folic acid like dark green leafy vegetables, oranges, and fortified breads and cereals. However, the synthetic form of folic acid is more easily absorbed by the body than the natural form. For most women, the best way to get the general recommended dose of 0.4 milligram folic acid is through a multivitamin with folic acid since the average American diet only provides about 0.2 milligram of folic acid. The 4.0 milligrams dose of folic acid recommended for women with a history of NTDs is only available through prescription.
Birth defects can happen in any family. Folic acid intake alone will not ensure a healthy baby, since so many factors affects a pregnancy. Folic acid can make a significant contribution toward not having a baby affected by spina bifida, but it is not a 100% guarantee. However, it is certain that taking folic acid before and during early pregnancy reduces the risk of having a child with spina bifida. Many factors, including genetic factors, environmental factors, and folic acid deficiency are related to spina bifida. With these different factors, the chances of having a child with spina bifida vary. For example, if parents have 1 child with spina bifida, the risk of recurrence or having another child with spina bifida increases to between 1 and 5 out of 100. If one parent has spina bifida, the chances of having a child with spina bifida are between 1 and 5 percent.
Do what you can
Even if you are not thinking about becoming pregnant, taking a multivitamin everyday is a good habit to develop and it’s good for you. If you are thinking about becoming pregnant, speak with your doctor about your risk of having a neural tube defect-affected pregnancy. This is especially important if you have already experienced a neural tube defect in a previous pregnancy.
Some of the factors affecting pregnancy are out of your control. But do what you can. Taking folic acid everyday can help reduce the risk of neural tube defects from happening in your family.
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