Expectant moms, if you aren’t already on prenatal vitamins, you should start asking your doctor about it! Learn more about folic acid and the kinds of food you should be eating in your first trimester.
Pregnancy can be a truly beautiful experience, especially for healthy moms. To be able to nurture the life inside of you and give it everything it needs is a real gift to most women.
But to nourish their babies well and remain active throughout the nine months. One important factor is to ensure that an expectant mother’s diet is loaded with essential nutrients and minerals needed during this crucial time.
This is why aside from having a balanced diet and avoiding foods that are not recommended for pregnant women. Such as those high in sugar and caffeine, one of the most important things that expectant moms are often told is to start taking prenatal vitamins.
And when it comes to vitamins for pregnant women, the first one that always comes to mind is folic acid. But why do doctors suggest the intake of folic acid? And what are the natural food items that possess this important nutrient?
Folate vs. folic acid
Before we learn about the amazing benefits of folic acid. Let’s first clear the air about this: is it folic acid or folate? Some moms may be confused if they are the same thing or not.
The answer? Yes, they are. According to Web MD, folic acid is the man-made form of a B vitamin called folate. This nutrient plays a crucial role in the production of red blood cells and helps your baby’s neural tube develop into its brain and spinal cord.
So to put it simply, the vitamin supplement that your doctor asks you to take is called folic acid. And the nutrient that is responsible for its benefits is called folate. Folate is also naturally present in some fruits and vegetables.
Benefits of folic acid for expectant moms and their babies
Once your pregnancy is confirmed by your doctor, one of the first things that she will advise you is to take folic acid every day. Even if you’re not pregnant but you’re trying to conceive, your OB-Gynecologist will still suggest taking folic acid to prepare your body for pregnancy.
“Folic acid is a very important form of vitamin B9, which is not only useful when you are pregnant but also when you are planning to have a baby,” explains Dr. Neema Sharma, director of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Fortis Flt. Lt. Rajan Dhall Hospital in Delhi.
But why is it important to take folic acid during the first trimester and eat folic acid-rich foods before pregnancy? Here are the following benefits that this wonder nutrient gives:
It also prevents brain damage and serious birth defects of the spinal cord
One of the common reasons why folic acid is recommended to pregnant women is because it helps prevent neural tube defects, including spina bifida and anencephaly, a condition wherein a baby is born without parts of its brain or skull. It also reduces the risks of congenital heart disease and even cleft lip and palate in newborns.
It treats folate deficiency
According to Healthline, folate deficiency in a pregnant woman can cause serious side effects to the unborn baby including megaloblastic anemia, birth defects, mental impairment, impaired immune function, and depression.
Our bodies cannot make folate, so it must be obtained through dietary intake.
Folic acid plays a vital role in cell production, division, and production of red blood cells which help prevent megaloblastic anemia.
Helps in promoting brain health
Can taking folic acid help in preventing postpartum depression in women?
While there is not enough evidence to support this theory. It has been shown in clinical trials that folate may have a therapeutic effect on depression. Moreover, people with depression were reported to have lower levels of folate in their blood than people without depression.
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It can improve psychological development in children
According to a study published in Science Daily in 2017, children whose mothers took folic acid throughout pregnancy demonstrated higher levels of emotional intelligence and resilience. In addition, the level of folic acid in the mother’s blood towards the end of pregnancy was a good predictor of children’s resilience and emotional intelligence.
It can help lower blood sugar levels
Gestational diabetes is one of the conditions you wouldn’t want to have while pregnant, and folate-based supplements can help improve blood sugar control and reduce insulin resistance.
It increases your chances of fertility
Aside from preparing your body for a possible pregnancy, taking in folic acid supplements and foods rich in folic acid or folate can also increase your chances of getting pregnant. According to Healthline, adequate folate is also essential for oocyte (egg) quality, implantation, and maturation.
Dr. Sharma recommends taking folic acid three months before conception and also three months after conception to prevent neural tube defects.
Foods rich in folate and folic acid
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Folic acid-rich fruits, do they exist?
As mentioned, folic acid refers to the water-soluble vitamin that is usually given as a supplement to pregnant women and those who are trying to conceive.
However, if you want to go the natural route, you can get folate from certain fruits and vegetables. Here are some of them:
- Brown rice
- Dried beans, peas, and nuts.
- Dark green vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, spinach, lettuce, and asparagus
- Citrus fruits like oranges
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If you’re looking for iron and folic acid-rich food, your best bet is commercial products that have been fortified with the said nutrients. Check the label the next time you buy breakfast cereals, whole grains, pasta, and bread, and you might just find iron and folic acid in one product.
While taking in these folate-enriched foods will definitely be beneficial to you and your baby. You should still ask your doctor if you should take folic acid supplements to ensure that you are reaching the daily recommended amount of folate.
According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), all pregnant women and those who are of childbearing age are recommended to consume 0.4 mg (400 mcg) of folic acid per day.
Doctors also advise taking your folic acid before a meal to make sure it is fully absorbed into the system, and better to take it with water too.
If you have any questions about what prenatal vitamins to take, or if you encounter any side effects while taking them, don’t hesitate to consult your OB-Gynecologist.
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