(Wampsville, NY – Jan. 2013) January is National Birth Defects Prevention Month, which is a time to raise awareness that the risk for many types of birth defects can be reduced through healthy lifestyle choices before and during pregnancy.
In fact, simply getting enough folic acid each day before and during pregnancy can help prevent up to 70 percent of some major birth defects of the brain and spine. Folic acid is a vitamin found in many foods and multivitamin supplements.
There are three ways women can get enough folic acid. They can choose to:
* Take a vitamin supplement containing 400 micrograms of folic acid daily, or
* eat a fortified breakfast cereal daily which contains 100 percent of the recommended daily amount of folic acid (400 micrograms).
* In addition, increase eating foods fortified with folic acid (e.g., “enriched” cereal, bread, rice, pasta and other grain products) in addition to consuming food folate from a varied diet (e.g., orange juice and green vegetables).
No matter what your age, foods rich in folic acid are good for you. Even young girls should try to get enough folic acid every day. That way, when you’re older and planning to become a mother, folic acid will already be a part of your diet.
Do you want healthier skin, hair and nails? Get enough folic acid, which helps your body make healthy new cells. Folic acid also may help lower your chances of getting heart disease and some types of cancers. It may help protect you from having a stroke, as well.
All women need folic acid because it works best for you and your baby early in the first month of pregnancy, a time when you may not even know you’re pregnant. Continued use of folic acid after the first month of pregnancy and throughout your life ensures the future good health of you and your family.
Folic acid can reduce certain birth defects of the brain and spinal cord by more than 70 percent. These birth defects are called neural tube defects. NTDs happen when the spinal cord fails to close properly. The most common neural tube defect is spina bifida. This occurs when part of the baby’s spinal cord remains outside the body.
The baby may have paralyzed legs and, later, may develop bladder- and bowel-control problems. The most serious neural tube defect is anencephaly. The baby is born without part of its skull and brain and eventually dies.
Read food and vitamin labels carefully to be sure you’re getting enough folic acid. On the labels, folic acid is also called “folate.” The amount of folic acid or folate in a vitamin or food may be given as either 400 micrograms or 0.4 mg. They are the same amounts.
For more information on how to prevent birth defects, visit www.healthymadisoncounty.org and click on Health Information.
Chrystal Johnson, MS, is a public health educator II, a certified health education specialist and certified child safety seat technician with Madison County Health Department.