This week every year is Folic Acid Awareness Week, and though it seems my blog has hibernated for the winter, I never miss this annual post. It is an issue close to my heart, as I have lost a baby girl to a fatal neural tube birth defect called anencephaly.
Folic acid, or folate, is the supplement I take to help prevent neural tube birth defects like my baby Hope's. Many foods are now fortified with this vitamin, for instance, it's added to enriched wheat products, which has helped reduce the occurance of neural tube defects. It's also naturally found in leafy greens, beans and legumes, and citrus fruits. But the folate that comes from food sources is not enough for some women, or is not easily enough absorbed, to prevent neural tube defects.
Neural tube defects are preventable for most women, if they are taking folic acid supplements. Most women don't know enough about folic acid, so I am re-posting some information I shared a few years ago during Folic Acid Awareness Week.
A neural tube defect, like anencephaly or spina bifida, occurs when the neural tube does not properly close, or "zip up" all the way to the top of what will be the skull and spinal column. This happens by day 28 of a pregnancy, so taking folic acid only after you find out you're pregnant is really too late.
I strongly believe this is something all women need to know about, so let me share what I know.
The recommended daily allowance (RDA) of folic acid for the average woman is only 400 mcg. It's important for red blood cell formation, and that's what's in a standard multivitamin. (That's what I was taking when I became pregnant with my baby girl Hope, as well as eating a healthy diet with greens, fruits, and fortified cereal.)
To protect against NTDs, the RDA is 600mcg for pregnant women and those trying-to-conceive, and most prenatal vitamins actually contain 800 to 1000 mcg (which equals 1 mg). Since an egg begins developing for release 3 months prior to ovulation, that means women need to start taking daily folic acid 3 months before conception.
For those (like me) who've had a baby with a NTD, the RDA is 5 mg. Conception has a stubborn habit of refusing to follow to our schedules, which is why most married women may want to take folic acid daily for the rest of their childbearing years. That's my plan. For those related (by blood or marriage) to a baby with a NTD, the RDA is 2 mg. That goes for relatives of the mother, relatives of the father, and even spouses of relatives. It is clear that there's a genetic factor, and that may include the father's genes as well as the mother's. So all siblings of the mother and father, whether male or female, have a higher risk factor for NTDs.
You can buy folic acid tablets at any grocery or discount store, usually in just 400 mcg tablets, but many stores are beginning to carry an 800mcg tablet. You can also ask your doctor for a prescription for 1 mg tablets, which is how I get mine. And you can get more information about folic acid and the prevention of birth defects from the National Council on Folic Acid