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Baby Steps: The Importance of Folic Acid in Infant Development

Posted Apr 19 2010 4:00am



With the many March of Dimes March for Babies walks looming in the near future, I thought it only appropriate to touch on something that the March of Dimes fights against, and something that can easily affect any new mother: neural tube defects.

Every mother-to-be wants her newest bundle of joy to arrive pink, plump, and perfectly healthy. So what do you do when your baby is at risk for the permanently disabling birth defect, Spina Bifida?

What is Spina Bifida?

Spina Bifida is the most common birth defect in the U.S., occurring in 7 out of every 10,000 live births. It is a type of neural tube defect (NTD), where the baby’s spinal column fails to close in the womb. A child living with Spina Bifida can face social problems, learning disabilities, gastrointestinal disorders, or can even be born paralyzed.

What’s the 411 on folic acid?

Spina Bifida can occur in any pregnancy, though one of the biggest determinants in its development is folic acid deficiency. Folic acid is a B-vitamin that our bodies use to make red blood cells, and synthesize and repair DNA. During pregnancy, our bodies’ need for folic acid increases to accommodate the growth of the baby.

Half of all U.S. pregnancies are unplanned, and because Spina Bifida develops as early as the first trimester, adequate folic acid intake during childbearing years is crucial to Spina Bifida prevention. Studies suggest that if all women of childbearing age were to take a daily multivitamin with folic acid, NTDs like Spina Bifida could be reduced by up to 70%.

The recommended dose of folic acid for women of childbearing age is 400 micrograms (mcg) per day, which can be found in most over-the-counter multivitamins. During pregnancy, that recommendation jumps to 600 to 800 mcg per day.

What can I do to decrease my child’s risk?

A diet rich in folic acid-containing foods (see sidebar) provides enough folic acid for fetal growth and development, but unfortunately, the average American Diet tends to fall short. The best way to ensure your baby is getting enough folic acid is to talk with your physician about taking a prescription prenatal vitamin. These vitamins contain between 800 and 1,000 mcg of folic acid, more than enough to meet your baby’s needs and help prevent Spina Bifida.

Bonus: From March 28 through May 1, Kmart Pharmacy is providing free folic acid to pharmacy customers when they fill a prescription! Check out the March of Dimes press release for more info, or head over to the Kmart Pharmacy website .

Check out this post, and other similar posts, on the Food for Your Whole Life Blog !


Happy Snacking,


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