When you’re pregnant it’s important to eat a healthy diet and take a prenatal vitamin, so your body has everything it needs to help your baby grow healthy and strong. One of the most important things your body needs while you’re pregnant is folate (also known as folic acid or vitamin B9). This vitamin is extremely important in preventing birth defects and promoting the overall health of your baby.
When we talk about using folate to prevent birth defects, we are usually referring to neural tube defects. NTDs include spina bifida and anencephaly. Spina bifida is when the spinal cord or vertebrae are not fully developed. This condition can range in severity and lead to complication such as orthopedic abnormalities, bladder problems and leg weakness. Anencephaly is much more severe and is when there are major parts of the brain that do not develop in a fetus. According to WebMD.com, “Babies with anencephaly usually do not live long, and those with spina bifida may be permanently disabled.”
Getting adequate levels of folate during pregnancy can significantly reduce the chances your baby will develop a NTD. Because NTDs develop so early in pregnancy, it is recommended to start taking supplemental folate as early as one month before you start trying to conceive. Taking supplemental folate during pregnancy can help to prevent a number of other conditions including (but not limited to): cleft lip or palate, premature birth and low birth weight. Many times you’ll hear about the importance of taking folic acid during your pregnancy. And while folic acid and folate are oftentimes used interchangeably, there are definite differences between them. Folic acid is the synthetic form of the naturally occurring folate. In order to be properly utilized, folic acid has to be altered by the body after is has been ingested. This can result in low absorption rates and higher levels of unmetabolized folic acid being left over in the body. Folate is the naturally occurring form required by the human body for utilization.
There are lots of things you can do to provide the best chance for a happy and healthy pregnancy for you and your baby. Taking folate is one of those things! Read labels and when possible, opt for a prenatal vitamin that contains folate over folic acid.