The major preconception benefit of taking a folic acid supplement is the prevention of birth defects. The US Centers for disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends at least 400 mcg (micrograms) of folic acid per day before and during pregnancy.
Deficiencies in folic acid or folate (natural form) have been linked to major birth defects of the brain and spine of babies. Such as neuro tube defects like spina bifida and anencephaly.
It's important to start taking this vitamin supplement at least three months prior to getting pregnant. So this is definitely one to add to your preconception checklist. Continue taking it throughout your pregnancy.
The benefit to start before conception (preconception) is that these defects occur in the first few weeks of pregnancy often before you even realize you have conceived. In other words, it only works if you take it before getting pregnant.
The CDC says that taking a folic acid supplement can decrease the odds of birth defects by 50 to 70%. It is a B vitamin sometimes referred to as B9.
The fertility benefit is that folic acid is needed for the growth of new cells in our body. Thus helping our system to produce healthy eggs. Well nourished eggs means less problems with fertility, ovulation, conception, implantation, miscarriage, and, of course, growing a healthier baby.
Unless prescribed by your doctor, you should limit your intake to 1000 mcg per day. If you've had a previous child with brain or spinal cord defects you doctor may prescribe 4000 mcg a day during the one month before you get pregnant.
Even if you believe that you are eating a well balanced nutritional diet, the CDC recommends still supplementing with capsules or pills. More studies are needed, but the belief is that some women may not be able to assimilate the naturally occurring form of this B vitamin (folate) resulting in a deficiency.
The March of Dimes states "A recent study* suggests that women who take a folic acid supplement for at least 1 year before they become pregnant can cut their risk for having a premature baby (born before 37 completed weeks of pregnancy) by half. The study also suggests that these women can reduce their risk of having a very premature baby (born before 32 completed weeks) by up to 70 percent."
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*Bukowski, R., et al. Preconceptional Folate Prevents Preterm Delivery (abstract). American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, volume 197, number 6, December 2007, page S3.
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