You can help prevent major birth defects with folic acid

by Mollee Bauer

Folic Acid AwarenessJanuary is not only the beginning of the new year, but also happens to be "Prevention Month." Part of our role at pregnancy.org is to make sure our members are aware of all sorts of important facts and figures.

This happens to include keeping our members up-to-date on folic acid awareness and why the vitamin is so vital to fetal development and preventing birth defects.

During spina bifida awareness month in October, we brought you all kinds of information surrounding the condition and ways to prevent it, mainly by consuming folate.

Why folic acid's important

The big fact to take away is that folic acid is a B vitamin. Research shows that if a woman has enough folic acid in her body before and during her pregnancy, it can help prevent major birth defects of the brain and spine.

Studies also show that women need 400 micrograms (mcg) of folic acid every day and should start taking it at least one month before becoming pregnant and during pregnancy as well.

In fact, the U.S. Public Health Service recommends that women regardless of whether planning to get pregnant or not, should take folic acid to help her body create new cells daily. All women between the ages of 15 and 45 should consume folic acid every day due to the fact that half of U.S. pregnancies are unplanned and that brain and spinal birth defects occur in early pregnancy -- usually 3 to 4 weeks after conception -- before most women know they're pregnant.

How can you get enough folic acid?

There are a couple of simple ways to make sure you're getting enough folic acid every day.

First, you can take a vitamin that has folic acid in it. For instance, most multivitamins sold in the U.S. have the amount of folic acid women need every day. You can also choose to take a folic acid supplement.

Another method is to eat a bowl of breakfast cereal that has 100 percent of the daily value of folic acid every day. You have to read labels though, because not every cereal has this amount in it.

How will you make sure you're getting enough?

Photo courtesy of iStockphoto.