Not enough American women understand that by taking the B vitamin folic acid every day--even before pregnancy--they can help prevent serious birth defects in their unborn baby. According to a recent March of Dimes survey, only 28 percent of women of childbearing age knew folic acid can prevent major birth defects of a baby's brain and spine, while only 11 percent said they knew that folic acid should be taken before pregnancy.
"Folic acid is important because it helps an unborn baby's neural tube--the part that becomes the brain and spinal cord--develop properly," explains Colleen Wells, DO, OB/GYN and member of the medical staff of Houston Healthcare. "If this does not develop correctly, the baby could be born with certain birth defects, such as spina bifida and anencephaly. It's important because most of these types of birth defects occur in the first 28 days of a baby's development, often before a woman even knows she's pregnant."
According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately 3,000 pregnancies each year are affected by brain and spine birth defects, called neural tube defects, or NTDs. Because half of all pregnancies in the United States are not planned, health care professionals recommend that all women of childbearing age consume 400 micrograms of folic acid every day before and continuing into the early months of pregnancy. By doing so, the CDC estimates that 50 to 70 percent of neural tube birth defects could be prevented.
"Women can get the 400 micrograms of folic acid they need by taking a daily multi-vitamin with that amount in it or by eating a fortified breakfast cereal," says Dr. Wells. "Not all cereals have the full 400 micrograms needed, so be sure to read the label on the cereal box and choose one that says "100 percent" next to folic acid."