By Dr Hemapriya, mylittlemoppet_
Folate is essential for healthy red blood cells as well as normal growth and development, making it a crucial nutrient during pregnancy.
There are many milestones in a woman’s life, and pregnancy is one of the most important ones. While the thought of carrying life around for 9 months is amazing in itself, what makes this time more exciting is the thought of finally meeting your little one!
Since you’re carrying and growing a very special person inside your body, it’s also up to you to nourish the baby adequately. The best way to do this is to avoid all kinds of harmful foods and to eat a balanced diet rich in all the macro nutrients and micro nutrients essential for healthy growth of the fetus. The most important nutrient during this stage is Folic acid or folate.
What is Folate?
Folate or Vitamin B9, is a water soluble vitamin. It’s synthetic form is referred to as folic acid. Folate is important to produce DNA and new healthy cells. Folate is essential for healthy red blood cells as well as normal growth and development, making it a crucial nutrient during pregnancy. Folate is one of the 13 essential vitamins and cannot be synthesized by the body, due to which it should be obtained from diet or supplements.
Every person requires a certain amount of folate every day, even without being pregnant. However, during pregnancy the demands of the body increase, which is why pregnant women need more folate. Not having enough folate in the body in the early stages of pregnancy can cause several birth defects.
Why Folate Deficiency Should be Avoided?
Folate deficiency can cause serious abnormalities in newborns, especially neural tube defects. The neural tube is what forms the baby’s brain and spine in the early days of pregnancy. If this tube doesn’t close properly, it causes neural tube defects, also known as NTDs.
- Spina Bifida – This is one of the most common neural tube defects, where the spinal column doesn’t close properly. This often causes nerve damage including paralysis.
- Anencephaly – In anencephaly, parts of the baby’s brain and skull don’t develop completely or correctly. Most babies with anencephaly are stillborn or die soon after birth.
- Chiari malformation – This is a condition where the brain tissue extends into the spinal canal.
- Congenital Heart Defects – The American Heart Association states that congenital heart defects occur due to poor or incomplete development of the heart. The baby’s chances of survival depend upon the severity of the heart condition.
- Cleft Lip and Cleft Palate – These defects occur when the mouth and the lip are not completely merged together. These are relatively minor defects that can be corrected through surgery.
Some studies show that having sufficient folate can also prevent premature births.
Folate Requirement in Pregnancy
- The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for folate for all adults is 400 mcg.
- Pregnant women require 600 mcg
- Lactating mothers need 500 mcg of folate.
Those who’ve already had a baby with NTD or those with other medical conditions like kidney disease or liver disease may require more folate.
The biggest requirement of folate is during the first weeks of pregnancy, when a woman may not even realize she’s pregnant. Ideally, all women of reproductive age should take folate since by the time a woman realizes she’s pregnant, the baby could have already had a neural tube defect.
You can get folate either from a supplement as folic acid, or from foods that are rich in folate. There are a variety of naturally folate-rich foods out there – dried beans, legumes, lentils, dark green leafy vegetables, broccoli, peanuts, sunflower seeds, wheat germ, seafood, eggs, oranges, papaya, mango, sweet corn and others.