Folic Acid Before Pregnancy: Benefits, Intake And Effects

Folic acid is essential for preventing several congenital issues and for maternal well-being.

Written by MomJunction • 
 

Folic acid, often known as folate, is a water-soluble vitamin B essential for cell development and reproduction. Folic acid plays a crucial part in the development of your baby’s neural tube, which develops in the brain and spinal cord when you are pregnant. However, the benefits of folic acid before pregnancy are numerous, so various studies recommend taking it when you start planning for a baby.

Before conception, your doctor may advise you to take folic acid supplements. This ensures the baby’s proper development throughout the first several weeks of pregnancy (1).

Continue reading to learn more about folic acid, its pre-pregnancy advantages, and some folic acid-rich foods to eat.

Benefits of Folic Acid Before Pregnancy

A significant proportion of women have low dietary folate intake and do not use folic acid supplements. It is best to start your folic acid intake from months before you plan to conceive. It helps to protect your fetus from neural tube defects. Here are some pointers to keep in mind on why taking folic acid is essential before pregnancy (2) (3):

  • It helps prevent miscarriage and avoid complications and birth defects. Also, neural tube defects (NTDs), including spina bifida (a congenital defect in which vertebra is malformed) and anencephaly (a defect in brain development resulting in small or missing brain hemispheres), can be avoided.
  • Dietary fortification with folic acid supplements reduces the occurrence of congenital anomalies by preventing nutritional deficiency.
  • Folic acid shields your baby from the risks of developing cleft lip or palate and miscarriage.
  • Deficiency of folic acid increases risk of preterm delivery and increases homocyestine level in your blood, which may lead to spontaneous miscarriage and pregnancy complications.
  • Folic acid is required for healthy development of your cells and protection from any damage, which may lead to cancer in later stages of life.

Pre Pregnancy Folic Acid Intake

In general, most pregnancies are unplanned and therefore to prevent certain birth defects, it is good to start taking folic acid supplements beforehand. It is advisable to take folic acid supplements at least one month prior you plan to conceive and then for the first three months of pregnancy (1).

Effects of Taking Folic Acid Before Pregnancy

Although there seem to be many benefits of taking folic acid supplements, it may also invite some unwanted effects if taken in excess. Studies have shown that mothers who take high amounts of folic acid supplements during pregnancy may have children born with asthma and infant respiratory tract infections (4).

Do weigh the positive outcomes with the risks, as there are many benefits as well disadvantages of taking folic acid.
If you feel you have taken excess folic acid before and during your pregnancy, consult your doctor if you experience side effects such as breathing difficulties, swollen face, hives, wheezing, and skin rash (5).

How Much Folic Acid Before Pregnancy?

The American Academy of Pediatric recommends that all women who are capable of becoming pregnant must consume folic acid every day to prevent groups of NTDs. Here are some guidelines regarding folic acid intake (6):

  • If you are trying to conceive or in your early pregnancy days, it is advisable to take 400mcg.
  • During four to nine months of pregnancy, your intake must be 600mcg, while during breastfeeding, the intake should be 500mcg (7).
  • A higher dose of folic acid supplement is needed for women suffering from diabetes, epilepsy, other health disorders and also for women who have a genetic factor of NTDs. Consult your doctor for this.
  • If you are among those women who previously had a neural tube defect (NTDs) affected pregnancy, you should intake folic acid of 4000mcg (4mg) daily at least one month prior to conception.

Sources of Foods Rich in Folic Acid

Sources of Foods Rich in Folic Acid
Image: Shutterstock

In general, it is preferred to get natural dietary folate from foods, rather than taking folic acid supplements. Here are some folic acid-rich foods (2) (8):

1. Vegetables: Include peas, jacket potato, broccoli, peas, asparagus, lady finger, beet-root, mustard greens, baby carrot, cauliflower, corn, lettuce and green pepper. Leafy green vegetable are considered a good source of folic acid, so consume more radish, spinach and fenugreek daily.

2. Fruits: Include oranges, watermelons, kiwi, blackberries, banana, pineapple, medium papaya (115mcg), raspberries and strawberries. Fruits are rich in vitamins and a good source of folate.

3. Nuts: Include walnuts, almonds, hazelnuts, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, cashew nuts and peanuts. When planning for a healthy snack at home boost your folate intake by simply enjoying a healthy diet essential for healthy pregnancies.

4. Grains: Include oats, pasta, cereals, brown rice and whole grain flour. These grains digest more slowly and provide a slow, steady stream for energy. Fortified cereals can be taken in the morning with low fat milk or you can simply keep munching throughout the day.

5. Legumes: Include lentils, chickpeas, meats, kidney beans, wheat germ and soya bean. These foods don’t substitute for folic acid supplements. Instead, consider them as a compliment to your supplement.

Do not mix folate and folic acid as they have the same effects. Folate is found in foods and folic acid is synthetically produced and available in the form of supplements that are added to various foods. It is best to take folate in food form rather than tablets as it’s completely packed with all sorts of nutrients, which are superb for you and your baby. If you have more doubts, your physician is the best person to turn to.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Does folic acid help get one pregnant?

While the benefits of folic acid during pregnancy are known, there is no known benefit of folic acid in improving one’s fertility.

2. Can too much folic acid cause miscarriage?

Women are unlikely to experience any adverse effects from consuming too much folic acid. However, unless advised otherwise by the doctor, you must limit your folic acid intake to 1000mcg a day (10).

Consuming folic acid before pregnancy is known to help prevent miscarriages and also reduce the risks of congenital disabilities in babies. The CDC advises taking one folic acid supplement per day before conceiving. However, ensure that you keep the amount of intake of these supplements in check. Include foods rich in folic acids such as oranges, cauliflower, nuts, legumes, and grains to meet your daily folic acid requirement and ensure a healthy pregnancy.

References

  1. Folic Acid.
    https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/folicacid/about.html
  2. Folate-Fact Sheet for Health Professionals.
    https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Folate-HealthProfessional/
  3. De-Regil L et al.; (2015); Folic acid supplements before conception and in early pregnancy (up to 12 weeks) for the prevention of birth defects.
    https://www.cochrane.org/CD007950/PREG_folic-acid-supplements-conception-and-early-pregnancy-12-weeks-prevention-birth-defects
  4. Siri E Håberg et al.; (2013); Folic acid supplements in pregnancy and early childhood respiratory health.
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3612898/
  5. Caroline M Taylor et al.; (2015); Folic acid in pregnancy and mortality from cancer and cardiovascular disease: further follow-up of the Aberdeen folic acid supplementation trial.
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4515996/
  6. Folic Acid.
    https://www.drugs.com/folic_acid.html
  7. Viswanathan M et al.; (2017); Folic Acid Supplementation: An Evidence Review for the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force [Internet].
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK410115/table/ch1.t2/
  8. Jaime Foster; (2015); Nutritional Needs During Pregnancy and Breastfeeding.
    https://ohioline.osu.edu/factsheet/HYG-5573
  9. Folate (Folic Acid) – Vitamin B9.
    https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/folic-acid/
  10. Folic Acid: Frequently Asked Questions & Answers
    https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/orders/pdfs/Folic%20Acid_QandA508.pdf
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