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How Folic Acid Helps Reduce the Risk of Birth Defects

Aug 17, 2007
Nothing is more important that your baby's health and one good way to help ensure that your baby is born healthy is to make sure you are getting enough folic acid. It has been proven to help prevent very serious birth defects of the brain and spine.

What can happen?
As mentioned earlier, very serious brain and spine defects can occur in newborns without the proper amount of folic acid. The most common defect is spina bifida. This is a condition where the spinal cord is actually partway outside of the body. Babies with spina bifida are often paralyzed and may have or develop problems controlling his or her bodily functions. However, the physical problem of the protruding spine is typically fixed surgically very soon after birth.

The most serious problem that may be cause by a lack of folic acid is anencephaly. Very simply put, this is a condition where the skull and brain does not fully develop. If the baby is not stillborn, which is very common with anencephaly, the baby will usually die within a few hours of being born.

How to get enough folic acid
One very easy way to get enough folic acid is though supplement pills. Many doctors even recommend taking supplements as soon as you plan on becoming pregnant as well as throughout the pregnancy to ensure that your body has enough folic acid to keep the new baby's brain and spine in healthy order. Another very common source is fortified cereals. Fortified breakfast cereals also help provide a wide range of other important nutrients to a growing fetus such as calcium, iron, and B vitamins. Folic acid is also known as folate so when you are reading labels, stay on the lookout for this either term.

Eating a well balanced diet is always key to getting the nutrients you need. Folic acid is commonly found in a wide range of fruits and vegetables including spinach, oranges, beets, lettuce, artichokes, corn, broccoli as well as various beans or legumes.

Folic acid is a member of the B vitamin family also known as vitamin B9. Since it is a water-soluble vitamin, your body cannot store it for very long. You must get a regular dose of it, whether it be through supplements or through food intake in order to help reduce the risk of birth defects.

Does folic acid eliminate the risk of spinal defects?
Unfortunately, folic acid only aids in the prevention of these types of birth defects. However, the risk is very small. Only around one thousand babies are born with anencephaly in the United States every year and the risk is reduced from three to one percent when the mother takes folic acid before and during pregnancy.
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