Leslie Dejohn is ready to welcome her first child, a boy, into the world. She, along with her husband, have been doing everything in their power to have a healthy pregnancy. "We gave up sodas, we gave up alcohol, we both got on a vitamin that would be nutritious toward the baby. I got on a vitamin that had folic acid in it," she said.
Folic acid is a B vitamin that helps the body make healthy new cells. It is considered the superhero supplement before and during pregnancy because it can dramatically reduce the risks of a baby developing severe birth defects.
It has always a part of doctor's orders during pregnancy, but OB/GYN Howard Stelly, M.D. says it is even more important before becoming pregnant. "The recommendation is that you start at least 30 days before conception, preferably longer," he said, "optimal would be a year."
Starting a daily folic acid supplement early can shrink the chance of your baby developing brain and spinal cord defects. "The neural tube defect happens very early in pregnancy," said Dr. Stelly, "three to four weeks. So if you wait until you're pregnant to start it, it's too late."
Whether you are taking a basic daily women's multivitamin or prenatal vitamins, you want to make sure that it has at least 400 micrograms of folic acid. The earlier you can start taking them, the better. "Decreased incidence of miscarriages, decreased incidence of pre-term delivery. It also helps in the baby's growth," said Dr. Stelly.
Most women's multivitamins have 400 micrograms of folic acid and that is the recommended amount for women of child-bearing age.
But no worries if your pre-natal vitamins have more. "It's a water soluble vitamin, so if you take too much, it gets flushed out through your urine, so it doesn't accumulate in the body," said Dr. Stelly.
Leslie is now on the recommended 600 micrograms a day while pregnant and is glad she made the choice to get a jump start on her baby boy's development. "I want him to be able to have the best chance possible in the future," she said, "and I want him to be able to thrive."
There are also foods that can help you get more folic acid in your diet. Go for leafy greens, fortified breakfast cereals and Great Northern Beans.