Folic acid- The pregnancy vitamin

  • By Dr. T Deepa Porkodi

Pregnant ladies are almost always prescribed iron and calcium vitamins. Have you ever noticed that the iron tablet comes with an added dash of folic acid in it?

What is Folic Acid and what does it do?

Folic Acid is a B complex vitamin, vitamin B9 to be precise. Folic acid helps in the proper development of the spine in your fetus. Deficiency of vitamin B9 or folic acid can lead to developmental anomalies of the spine like neural tube defects or spina bifida.

Along with vitamin B12, it helps in the development of new red blood cells and helps prevent a type of anemia known as megaloblastic anemia.

Hence, it is essential that you take folic acid regularly during the entire course of your pregnancy and breast-feeding, more specifically in the first trimester when the spine is still forming.

The importance of folic acid is such that doctors advise you to start with folic acid supplements right from the time you start planning your pregnancy.

Birth defects occur during the first 3 to 4 weeks of fetal development. Hence it is very essential that you start taking folic acid right from the time you plan the pregnancy and continue it through the pregnancy and while lactating.

In expectant mothers, folic acid is necessary to combat anemia. During pregnancy, the need for iron is doubled which is why an iron-rich diet along with iron supplements is advised. Iron supplements alone are not enough to meet the body’s requirements. The body also needs to prepare its own new red blood cells and this happens with the help of vitamin B12 and folic acid. Deficiency of either of these could lead to megaloblastic anemia.

The recommended dose of folic acid in pregnancy is 5 mg. Along with this, doctors may advise a diet rich in folate. In cases where there is a past history of miscarriage or a child born with neural tube defects and spinal anomalies, the dose is increased.

Folates are the naturally occurring form of folic acid. Several food items contain a good amount of folates are:

  1. Oranges
  2. Eggs
  3. Bengal grams
  4. Papayas
  5. Tomatoes
  6. Spinach
  7. Pomegranates
  8. Lentils
  9. Kidney beans
  10. Fenugreek seeds
  11. Beetroot
  12. All dry fruits
  13. Whole grains

Remember not to overcook any of the foods containing folic acid as cooking breaks down the cells. These foods are best consumed raw or steamed.

Folic acid deficiency will make you feel dull and lethargic. You may also feel grumpy and irritated. Diarrhea, heartburn, loss of appetite, sore throat, mouth ulcers are a few other symptoms of folic acid deficiency.

Do not take these symptoms lightly or put them down to pregnancy and hormones!