Friday, June 17, 2011

Folic Acid, Pregnancy, and Neural Tube Defects

If you were to ask most people who know me they would tell you that I am a pretty healthy person. I exercise, eat lots of whole grains, fruits, veggies, good proteins, drink lots of water, and take my vitamins. So when I found out I had a baby with a neural tube defect I freaked out and wondered where I went wrong. There are so many people that never take prenatal vitamins or eat very good foods and there babies turn out fine, so what went wrong with mine?

Many things can affect a baby, including family genes and things women may come in contact with during pregnancy. Taking folic acid cannot guarantee having a healthy baby, but it can help.

The doctors told me that they are not sure what caused Liam's Spina Bifida but for my next pregnancy they want me to take a lot of extra folic acid. They said I can take up to 4000mcg a day, my prenatal has 1000mcg and I have been taking another folic acid supplement providing me with another 2800mcg. I have been taking this amount of folic acid for the last few weeks and will continue through the first trimester of my next pregnancy.

Research has shown that if all women who could possibly become pregnant were to take a multivitamin with folic acid, the risk of neural tube defects like Spina Bifida could be reduced by up to 70%.

The 2 most common neural tube defects are anencephaly and spina bifida. Spina Bifida, like my son had, occurs when an unborn baby’s spinal column does not close properly to protect the spinal cord. This usually occurs within the first month of pregnancy(usually completed by the 28th day often before a women knows she is pregnant) which is why it is so important to be taking the proper amount of folic acid the month before you're even trying to conceive. Most women should be taking at least 400-800mcg a day but if you are like me and already have had a baby with a neural tube defect 4000mcg is recommended.

Spina bifida is the most frequently occurring permanently disabling birth defect and the most common Neural Tube Defect. It affects approximately one out of every 1,000 newborns in the United States.

When I was pregnant with Liam I took only my prenatal vitamins and assumed my healthy diet was enough. For most people that probably was. I have since learned though that your body does not absorb folate(which you naturally get from certain foods) as well as the synthetic kind-folic acid. It is important to still eat foods that naturally supply it but its also very important to eat fortified foods. Apparently your body processes synthetic folic acid(man made) a lot better. I rarely ever ate any fortified foods since I tend to eat a lot more whole foods, which you'd think would be better, or so I thought. So when I read that I was freaking out thinking that must have been where I went wrong with my last pregnancy. Well, maybe that would've helped. I guess I can't change what happened with Liam now, and whether or not my diet included the extra folic acid, beyond my prenatal, from natural or fortified foods or not I am going to be doing everything I can now to ensure the next pregnancy gets enough folic acid.

Folic acid, is a common water-soluble B vitamin (B9) that helps build healthy cells, and is essential for the functioning of the human body. During periods of rapid growth, such as pregnancy and fetal development, the body's requirement for this vitamin increases.

The average American diet surprisingly does not supply the recommended level of folic acid.

So like I said I am taking lots of folic acid supplements right now. I also have researched all types of foods that supply folate/folic acid and how much of it they each provide. Here are some big ones:

lentils, leafy greens, avocado, citrus, beans, broccoli, fortified breads and cereals, wheat germ, tomatoes, papaya, cantaloupe, eggs, nuts, sweet potatoes, peas, raspberries, asparagus, mushrooms, poultry, pork, etc. 

Lots of foods, lots of options, and a lot of the things I used to eat a lot of. So next to the supplements and most of the foods listed above, the one thing I will be adding into my diet are more fortified foods. This might seem a little excessive but I am not playing around this pregnancy!  So here is what I am eating every morning for breakfast:

Total Cereal, this kind even has Omega- 3's, and pretty good tasting also

And just check out the nutritional info on the side of this box (if you can read it). I love seeing all the 100%'s, especially next to the folic acid.

So here folks is everything that I'll be consuming a lot of in the following months, possibly through the next pregnancy, or at least until the prescreen and the ultrasound show there are no signs of a neural tube defect. And hopefully nothing else either.


  1. I might have to try this cereal! I should also check my prenatals to verify how much FA is in them. Thanks for the tip!

  2. Ah you are awesome! I'm also very concerned with getting all the right vitamins and minerals during pregnancy. I love this post and am so happy that you are upping the Folic Acid. I bought Total cereal when I was pregnant so I would get extra Iron because I was anemic. Something else I read that I am obsessed with is getting enough Lycopene (found in tomatoes and ketchup) because I read it cuts the risk of Pre-eclampsia by like 80%. Good luck!!

  3. I have to commend you on eating so healthy; that's awesome! I didn't realize tomatoes had folic acid in them(that probably sounds stupid), but that's great. I've been craving tomatoes and eating them like crazy lately(when I'm not nauseous that is), lol. Thanks for posting this :) Keeping my fingers crossed for you guys!!

  4. You have me thinking a lot about folic acid and what I'll be doing differently in my next pregnancy. A bit more can't hurt, right? Perhaps I'll look into eating some of that cereal in my next pregnancy for at least the first month. Problem is, don't few women know they're pregnant for at least 14 of those days? Looks like I'll just have to eat more anyway. :) Thanks for the education.

  5. Found your blog from Kelly's. So sorry to hear about your precious Liam. My Sadie Mae was born on the 18th... they were almost birthday buddies. I look forward to getting to know you through your posts.

  6. Hey Becky! Thanks for reaching out on my blog! Sorry I'm just getting around to responding. So sorry about baby Liam. Glad you are ttc, too! Wishing you all the best with that. In my next pg, I will be on Folgard (possibly the same folic acid supplement you will be on?) among other things like blood thinners. It was discovered that I have a blood-clotting disorder (even though it didn't affect my daughter or Hayes, we do not believe) and I operate at a possible deficiency with absorbing folic acid, so even though I've been lucky to escape spina bifida and other problems that might have resulted, I am thankful to know we can hopefully prevent any problems in the future, too.


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