What is it?
Folic acid, also called folate or vitamin B9 is a vitamin that contributes to the growth and protection of body cells.
What is it good for?
Folic acid is, in fact, essential to the normal development of the spine, brain and skull of your baby, especially during the first four weeks of pregnancy.
Folic acid reduces by half the risk of birth defects (in Canada, this risk is one to two per 1,000 births) that can cause limb defects, abnormalities of the urinary tract and the contraction of the lower digestive tract and that of the neural tube.
The neural tube is the starting point from which the brain and spinal cord of the embryo is built. If it does not close properly, it can cause abnormalities of the spine, brain and skull (such as spina bifida) that can lead to the death of the baby or permanent infirmity.
When and how to use it?
You should start taking folic acid capsules at least three months before the period during which you would like to get pregnant. A multivitamin containing 0.4mg of folic acid every day is sufficient and you should keep up this habit during the first three months of your pregnancy. You can continue taking this vitamin until the end of your pregnancy and ideally for four to six weeks after delivery and while breastfeeding.
However, do not exceed 1mg per day without consulting your doctor.
Because there are several varieties of vitamin supplements, it is best to consult your doctor or a pharmacist who will recommend the best brand for you.
Women who already have a child who suffers from spine or brain abnormalities should consult a doctor before starting to consume folic acid because they could need a higher dose.
The same goes for women who suffer from diabetes, epilepsy, obesity or ethnic groups at risk.
Other sources of folic acid
The daily dose of folic acid contained in your daily tablet must be accompanied by a proper nutrition, as recommended by Canada’s Food Guide, to maximize your chances of having a healthy baby, both neurologically and physically.
Dark green vegetables – broccoli, spinach, peas and Brussels' sprouts – as well as corn, beans, lentils, oranges and orange juice are excellent sources of folic acid. Whole grain breads and foods enriched in folic acid also provide significant amounts of this vitamin.