As the good news of a new family member spreads through the group chats and emotional family reunions, the mother’s body has long been in baby mode: shortly after conception, the cell division and the growth process begins without the mother being notified by her body. During these important first days the child’s brain and spinal bone marrow is beginning to form. Surprisingly, although folic acid is also known as vitamin B9, few have an understanding of what it actually does. Expectant mothers cannot overestimate the importance of this vitamin; so it’s high time to have a closer look at this unknown player.
Another mouthful of folic acid?
It takes up to four months of pregnancy before the need for minerals, vitamins, and trace elements significantly increases. Folic acid is the exception. Even at the beginning of a pregnancy, the already high demand for this vitamin increases once more. Folic acid is a water-soluble vitamin which occurs naturally in green leaves, as the Latin word folium (“leaf”) already implies in the name. Broccoli, brussel sprouts, spinach and garden salad are all delicious sources of folate. In addition to leafy vegetables, the vitamin is also found in smaller quantities in cauliflower, asparagus, tomatoes, legumes, egg yolk, nuts and fruits. Whoever consumes wholegrain and dairy products as part of their daily diet also regularly consumes folates.
Healthy nutrition means being smarter
Studies show that German women consume about 184 ug(micrograms) of folic acid daily. That’s just one third of the recommended 550 ug intake for pregnant women. The missing 400 ug of folic acid are practically impossible to be gained through normal food intake, which is why complementary multivitamins (labeled as “folic acid 400”)should be used. In addition, women who want to have children should start supplementing even before the planned pregnancy, in order to avoid later complications.
The deliberate combination of folate-rich foods and the nutritional supplements mentioned is an important component for the healthy development of a new life. The folic acid supplements should be taken until the end of the first trimester of pregnancy. It should be noted in general that the use of folic acid supplements does not replace the intake of folic acid from foods; as the name states, it only supplements them.
More folic acid, less risk
On the other side of folic acid supply studies it has been identified that inadequate intake of the vitamin is one of the causes of developmental issues of bone marrow in the spinal cord, as well as central nervous system abnormalities. For this reason, the Robert Koch Institute, the Federal Institute for Risk Assessment and numerous other medical associations have published well-founded information sheets for decades, which recommend a targeted intake of folic acid. Not to be dismissed is the connection between a lack of folic acid in women and some serious malformations in the unborn child, a risk which can be consciously reduced. Every year, for example, neural tube defects (such as an open back) are found in about 1,600 unborn children – a heavy burden for mother and child. The likelihood that improved folic acid supply would reduce the risk be high.
Ignorance isn’t always bliss
Despite the awareness of the consequences of folic acid deficiency, ignorance of this risk is still widespread. Few new mothers are aware of the importance of the indispensable pregnancy vitamin, despite much advertised information On the contrary.
For example, a study of 253 female Munich residents revealed that after years of information about the importance of folic acid deficiency, less than 5% of respondents had added the recommended supplements to their diet. Although this eventually led to the widespread folic enrichment of everyday foods (such as table salt, cereals or multivitamin drinks),these measures do not free you of the responsibility for your own actions.
Thinking for two
If a woman realizes that despite balanced nutrition the intake of folic acid is too low, the first important step has already been taken. A healthy folic acid balance is not a feat: A balanced diet, plus a daily vitamin pill and regularly consuming leafy green vegetables significantly reduces the risks mentioned in pregnancy. The good feeling you have in your stomach of having started caring for the child long before the birth keeps your head free for the exciting first few weeks as an expectant mother.