Taking a daily multivitamin containing the B vitamin folic acid is one of the best ways to prevent birth defects and an important step toward having a healthy baby, yet only about one-third of women know about it.
Taking your folic acid beginning before pregnancy is just one piece of advice found in the new March of Dimes book "Healthy Mom, Healthy Baby: The Ultimate Pregnancy Guide" from Siobhan M. Dolan , M.D., MPH, an obstetrician-gynecologist and clinical geneticist who is a medical adviser to the March of Dimes, and Alice Lesch Kelly .
January 6-12 is national Folic Acid Awareness Week, a time when the March of Dimes reminds all women of child-bearing age of the important role folic acid plays in preventing serious birth defects of the brain and spine known as neural tube defects (NTDs), which include spina bifida and anencephaly. Daily consumption of folic acid beginning before and continuing through the early months of pregnancy is crucial because NTDs occur in the first few weeks following conception, often before a woman knows she is pregnant.
"All women of reproductive age should be taking a multivitamin containing folic acid every day," advises Dr. Dolan. "It's such an easy thing to do, and it can have such a major benefit to your future family. About half of pregnancies are unplanned, so take your folic acid daily and be sure to give your baby the healthiest start in life."
In the book, Dr. Dolan advises taking 400 micrograms of folic acid before conceiving and up to 600 to 800 micrograms after. You can watch a short video of Dr. Dolan talking about her new book and order a copy online at www.marchofdimes.com/healthymombook
Dr. Dolan says that in 1992, the U.S. Public Health Service began recommending that all women capable of having a baby consume at least 400 micrograms of folic acid beginning before pregnancy and continuing throughout to prevent NTDs. Since then, the March of Dimes has worked to spread the word about the importance of folic acid for women of childbearing age, and helped bring about folic acid fortification of the grain and cereal supply. "Since folic acid was added to the grain food supply in 1998, our nation has seen a 26 percent decrease in NTDs," Dr. Dolan notes.
"However, while fortified foods are helpful, a healthy diet alone usually can't provide enough folic acid for pregnant women, so you need that multivitamin. They're easy to get over the counter and most brands contain the recommended amount of 400 micrograms," she says. Dr. Dolan says the March of Dimes and its partners now are petitioning the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to fortify corn masa flour with this important B vitamin because NTDs are more prevalent in the Hispanic population than other racial or ethnic groups.
Hispanic women are about 20 percent more likely to have a child with an NTD than non-Hispanic white women, according to the National Birth Defects Prevention Network. Although the reasons for the disparity is not well understood, Hispanic women have been found to have lower intake of folic acid overall compared to non-Hispanic white women.