All women who could become pregnant should take a daily multivitamin containing folic acid.
Since many pregnancies in Canada are unplanned, and neural tube defects (NTDs) occur before most women even know they are pregnant, all women who could become pregnant should take folic acid at least three months prior to conception.
Folic acid, also known as folate or folacin, is a B vitamin that is essential for the healthy development of a baby's spine, brain and skull during the early weeks of pregnancy. Folic acid has been proven to help reduce the risk of neural tube defects (NTD's) by more than 70% if taken before pregnancy.
Neural tube defects (NTDs) are birth defects that affect the brain (anencephaly) and/or spinal cord (spina bifida). NTDs occur when the tissues that form the brain and spinal cord, fail to develop properly. These defects occur in the first four weeks after conception - usually before a woman even knows she is pregnant.
Some NTD's can be detected before birth. Talk to your health care provider if you wish to know more about the prenatal blood test (maternal serum screening, triple test) or ultrasound test that can give you more information about whether your developing baby has a neural tube defect.
Any woman who could become pregnant is at risk of having a baby with a neural tube defect. About one in every 1300 pregnancies in Canada is affected by a NTD. You may be at greater risk of having a baby with a NTD if:
All women who could become pregnant should take a multivitamin containing a minimum of 0.4 mg of folic acid every day. To help reduce the risk of NTD's you should take the recommended amount of folic acid. Women at high risk of having a NTD-affected pregnancy, need to take a higher dose of folic acid and should consult with their physicians. If you have a family history of spina bifida, talk to your doctor about folic acid today BEFORE getting pregnant.
The easiest way to get the required daily amount of folic acid is to take a daily multivitamin containing a minimum of 0.4 mg of folic acid. Taking a vitamin does not reduce or replace the need for eating a healthy, well-balanced diet according to Canada's Food Guide to Healthy Eating. You should eat food high in folic acid, such as broccoli, spinach and orange juice, as well as foods fortified with folic acid, such as white flour, enriched pasta and enriched cornmeal.
We have a list of foods which contain folic acid.
For more on the benefits of folic acid during pre-pregnancy, visit www.folicacid.ca
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