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What Moms-to-Be Should Know About Birth Defects and Folic Acid

January 2, 2018

At SIHF Healthcare, we focus on education for moms-to-be. Our top priority is to make sure your pregnancy is a healthy one. Since January is Folic Acid Awareness and Birth Defect Prevention Month, our board-certified obstetricians and gynecologists want to share some information about folic acid and birth defects.

How Common are Birth Defects?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that 1 in every 33 babies in the United States are born with birth defects each year. While birth defects can occur at any point during the pregnancy, most develop within the first three months. Several factors can increase the risk factor for birth defects, such as a family history or being older than 35 years of age at delivery. Not all high-risk women deliver babies with birth effects, some low-risk women do as well, so it is important to meet with your SIHF Healthcare provider for an initial prenatal visit to discuss risk factors. If you are pregnant, or plan to become pregnant, your doctor can recommend ways to decrease this risk, such as taking folic acid.

What is Folic Acid?
Folic acid, a form of vitamin B9, is vital to proper cell growth. It promotes the production of normal red bloods cells, prevents types of anemia, reduces the risk of preeclampsia, and is essential for the functioning, production, and repair of DNA. Folic acid is particularly important during pregnancy, because it aids in the rapid cell growth of the placenta and significantly lowers the risk of potential birth defects.

What Birth Defects are Affected by Folic Acid?
Neural Tube Defects (NTDs) affect the spinal cord and the brain, leading to defects such as spina bifida or anencephaly. It is reported to affect over 3,000 pregnancies a year in the United States. Risk of other birth defects, such as cleft palate, cleft lip, and heart defects are also said to decrease with use of folic acid. Birth defects typically form during the first three months of pregnancy, when the organs are developing, so the promotion of cell growth via folic acid is important to help reduce the risks of these defects.

What is the Recommended Dose of Folic Acid?
The United States Public Health Service and the CDC recommend women who are pregnant, or who plan to become pregnant, take 400 micrograms (mcg) of folic acid every day. It is important to keep up with your folic acid intake, since birth defects usually develop within the first few weeks of pregnancy. Women between 15 and 45 years of age should also consider incorporating folic acid into their diet, especially since nearly half of all pregnancies in the United States are unplanned. This intake can come from folic acid tablets, a multi-vitamin which includes folic acid, or fortified foods such as pasta, cereal, or grains. 

Because SIHF Healthcare wants to make sure your pregnancy is as stress-free and comfortable as possible, we are proud to offer the Healthy Start program to moms-to-be. This free, integrative health program aims to give your baby the healthiest start to life. It connects you with a Healthy Start coach, schedules pregnancy/parenting classes, provides referrals for services, and assists with transportation to and from appointments. For more information on the Healthy Start program, call 618.646.2505 or visit www.sihf.org to schedule an appointment at one of our convenient SIHF Healthcare locations!