Your baby's brain, skull and spine form during the first few weeks of pregnancy, before you even know you are expecting! In order for them to form properly, you must have enough folic acid.
Folic acid is one of the B vitamins important for the healthy growth of your unborn baby. It is essential to the normal development of your baby's spine, brain and skull, especially during the first four weeks of your pregnancy. It is, therefore, important to start taking vitamin supplements with folic acid before you get pregnant to reduce the risk of neural tube defects.
Neural tube defects (NTDs) are birth defects that occur when the neural tube fails to close properly during the early weeks of pregnancy, resulting in abnormalities of the spine, brain or skull that can result in stillbirth or lifelong disability. Closure of the neural tube happens early in pregnancy, often before a woman knows she is pregnant. Spina bifida is the most common NTD.
All women who could become pregnant should take a multivitamin containing 0.4 mg of folic acid every day. To help reduce the risk of NTDs, you should start taking the vitamin supplement at least three months before you get pregnant and continue throughout your pregnancy. Talk to your health professional to find the best supplement for you.
If you have had a previous NTD-affected pregnancy, or have a personal history of this problem, see your doctor. You may be advised to take a higher dosage of folic acid. If you have a family history of NTD or if you have diabetes, epilepsy or certain chronic conditions, and you should see your doctor before planning a pregnancy.
Taking a daily vitamin supplement does not reduce or replace the need for a healthy, well-balanced diet according to Canada's Food Guide. Good or excellent sources of folic acid (called folate when it is naturally occurring in foods) include dark green vegetables (broccoli, spinach, peas and brussel sprouts), corn, dried peas, beans, lentils, oranges and orange juice. Grain products fortified with folic acid such as bread and pasta also provide significant amounts of the vitamin.
You should start taking a daily multivitamin with 0.4 mg of folic acid before planning a pregnancy. Talk to your doctor or pharmacist about which multivitamin would be best for you.
Make an effort to eat more foods that are good ources of folic acid (or folate).
If you are more at risk of having a baby with an NTD, see your doctor before you plan a pregnancy to discuss your options.
Some NTDs can be detected before birth by prenatal screening tests. If you are pregnant and wish to know more about the prenatal diagnosis of NTDs, talk to your health care professional about the prenatal blood test or ultrasound test that can give you more information about whether your unborn baby has an NTD.
Do not take more than one daily dose of vitamin supplement as indicated on the product label. Increasing your daily dose of folic acid without the advice of a doctor is not recommended. In large doses some substances in multivitamins could actually do more harm than good. This is especially true of vitamin A in some forms.
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