Any woman of reproductive age who is sexually active and not using a contraceptive should be talking a prenatal vitamin with folic acid. Folic acid, also known as vitamin B9, and folate are essential for numerous bodily functions. The human body needs folate to synthesize and repair DNA and is very important for cell growth, which is particularly important during pregnancy. Humans require folic acid to synthesize healthy red blood cells. Consequently, a deficiency in folic acid leads to anemia. Adequate folate intake prior to conception and during the early stages of pregnancy help lower the risk of several congenital birth defects, most notably neural tube defects (malformations of the spine, skull, and brain, including spina bifida and anencephaly). It is unknown how supplemental folic acid lowers the risks for these defects. Also, it has been observed that the risk of preterm labor is lower when women have been supplementing their diet with folic acid for months prior to conception. There is some data that suggests that adequate folic acid lowers the risk of spontaneous miscarriage. All of these risks are lower when women are using supplemental folic acid during the time leading up to conception.
The recommended daily allowance (RDA) for humans is 400 micrograms; however, the RDA for women who may become pregnant is 600-800 micrograms. Most prenatal vitamins contain 800-1000 micrograms of folic acid. The principal dietary source for folic acid is leafy green vegetables (spinach, asparagus, and turnip greens). Other foods that contain large amounts of folic acid include dried beans, peas, lentils, sunflower seeds, egg yolks, and Baker’s yeast. Although, many cereals and breads have been fortified with folic acid, western diets still may not supply enough folic acid for the needs of a pregnancy.
It is not uncommon for women who become really frustrated with their fertility problems to quit taking their prenatal vitamin. Their attitude is “What’s the point? – I can’t get pregnant anyway!” Many patients struggling with fertility still have a chance of conceiving, even if they are taking a break from treatment. So, for the sake of your baby, take your prenatal vitamin every day.
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