Folic acid, or vitamin B9, has many positive properties, including for unborn babies. But then it is important that women start taking folic acid supplements on time, even before they become pregnant.
Folic acid is recommended for all women who want to become pregnant and are pregnant, at least until the end of the first trimester, says Dr. Michael Ceulemans of the Clinical Pharmacology and Pharmacotherapy research group at KU Leuven. “Folic acid plays a role in the production of red blood cells, among other things. When women are pregnant, the production of those red blood cells increases. The need for folic acid is higher than what they get through food. Specifically for the child, the intake of folic acid means that the risk of certain congenital abnormalities is greatly reduced. With neural tube defects, that is even 50 to 70 percent.”
Those neural tube defects prevent the baby’s brain and nervous system from developing properly. The consequences can be very different, ranging from fairly harmless to bladder problems that have a major impact on daily functioning. “About three to four weeks after conception is a crucial phase. This is the period when the neural tube closes,” explains Ceulemans. “Often this is before the woman knows she is pregnant. So if you want to be absolutely sure that you benefit from the folic acid, you should start taking it already before you are pregnant. Preferably even a month in advance. This way you build up sufficient reserves. A smart rule of thumb: as soon as the desire to have children becomes concrete and you stop using contraceptives, it is best to start using folic acid supplements.”
Our body cannot produce folic acid itself. This vitamin does occur in, among other things, leafy vegetables, kiwis and whole-grain products. “However, that amount is too small to cover the need during pregnancy,” says Ceulemans. “So you can only solve that through nutritional supplements. Folic acid is also very cheap and freely available at any pharmacy. The problem is that women often start too late. Also because they often do not see their gynecologist for the first time until about six to eight weeks after conception.”
As always with medical matters, it is a good idea to double check all this with your doctor, gynaecologist, pharmacist or midwife. “Folic acid is water soluble, so if you take too much of it, it leaves the body through the urine. The recommended daily dose for pregnant women is 0.4 milligrams. However, it is recommended not to take more than necessary.”
On the other hand, there are also women who benefit from higher doses, says Ceulemans. For example, if there is a family history of congenital abnormalities, such as spina bifida (spinal spina bifida). Or in case of diabetes or the use of certain medicines. “But these are matters that you should discuss with your healthcare provider. Be sure to also check www.gezondzwangerworden.be. That is a government website with tips and facts about, among other things, healthy food and the harmful consequences of alcohol and smoking.”
As a pregnant woman, do you want to contribute to gathering more knowledge about medicines and pregnancy? Then sign up to participate in the BELPREG project that conducts research using online questionnaires during pregnancy and in the first 8 weeks after giving birth.
To start your participation, surf to https://belpreg.be/aanmelden-voor-je-eerste-vragenlijst/. More information can be found at www.belpreg.be of BELpREG social media (Facebook on Instagram).