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Among the benefits of the taking the supplement folic acid during pregnancy include possibly preventing birth defects, especially neural tube defects (NTDs). It can also help to reduce the chances of premature birth and low birth weight. While taking folic acid during pregnancy is beneficial to both mother and baby, doctors typically recommend that all women between the ages of 20 and 40 take a folic acid supplement, even if they have no current plans of becoming pregnant.
When a woman becomes pregnant, her body requires almost double the amount of folic acid, also known as B9, than it typically does. This is because folic acid helps the baby develop DNA. A lack of it impairs the growth and development of the fetus, which can greatly increase the chances of NTDs and other issues. Taking folic acid during pregnancy may minimize several serious and even fatal issues such as spina bifida and anencephaly. The latter is the term for a fatally underdeveloped brain and skull in a fetus, which can cause death either in the womb or shortly after birth.
Taking folic acid during pregnancy or taking prenatal vitamins with folic acid can also decrease the risk of other serious health issues. These can include defects of the urinary tract, deformed limbs, and heart abnormalities. Taking B9 can also reduce the instances of cleft lip and cleft palate. Both of these health issues usually require surgery shortly after birth in order for the baby to eat properly.
Another benefit of taking folic acid during pregnancy is increasing the chances of the mom carrying the baby to term. Babies born even a few weeks before their estimated due date are at greater risk for many health problems and developmental delays. This is because a baby’s lungs, more often than not, do not reach full maturity until a few days prior to the 40 week mark, which is the typical length of gestation. The lack of mature lungs can lead to breathing issues and increase the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).
When the mother’s body has an adequate supply of folic acid, it may also reduce the risk of low birth weight. As folic acid is one of the biggest factors in fetus development, the lack of it can cause the fetus to develop more slowly, therefore not reaching the ideal birth weight. Babies born at a low birth weight are at greater risk for developmental delays, vision problems, and for developing asthma or other chronic breathing issues.
Taking 600 to 800 mg of folic acid during pregnancy is recommended by many doctors. It is also generally recommended that women between 20 and 40 years of age take 400 mg of folic acid daily. The first few weeks of pregnancy, when most women do not yet know they are pregnant, is when folic acid can be important. Anyone considering adding folic acid to a daily nutritional regimen should consult a healthcare professional first, however.
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