In our quest to live healthy, happy, balanced lives, it's easy to become overwhelmed and confused about what you should and shouldn't do.
We definitely shouldn't overload on chocolate, drink too much alcohol and smoke, and it's always a good idea to exercise, drink plenty of water and eat a balanced diet. They're the basics, and once you have them down pat you're good to go, right? Well, almost right. There's more you can do to stay healthy, and to help your unborn baby be healthy.
Wait, what? Unborn baby?
Bear with us.
Folic acid is a vitamin that all sexually active women who could become pregnant should be taking, whether they plan to get pregnant or not. It is an essential nutrient for the development of an unborn baby's brain and spine, both of which develop fully during the first three - four weeks of pregnancy.
Taking extra folic acid daily is needed to support this - it helps reduce the risk of serious birth defects of the brain and spine known as neural tube defects (NTDs), such as spina bifida.
Many women don't know exactly why folic acid is important; that's why we are debunking five of the most common myths.
- Myth 1: You don't have to take folic acid if you use contraception
Even if you use contraception, there is still a chance that you will get pregnant. And yes, that includes the pill. Folic acid should be taken in the first three months of pregnancy, and if a pregnancy is unplanned (like about half of all pregnancies are), it may be too late to make any difference.
- Myth 2: Women only need to take folic acid when they are pregnant
Women who are pregnant should take folic acid, but it is most effective in the first three months. To ensure that this happens, women should take folic acid before they are pregnant.
- Myth 3: You get all the folic acid you need from eating broccoli
Broccoli is a veg that contains folate (the form folic acid takes when coming from food), but you would have to eat an awful lot of it to get the amount you need. It’s impossible for women to get enough folic acid from food; you should be taking 400 micrograms every day leading up to pregnancy and during the first three months; that's why folic acid should be taken as a supplement.
You can buy a single folic acid supplement, and many multivitamin formulas contain 400mcg of folic acid - but some also contain Vitamin A, which is not recommended during pregnancy, so be sure to check the label.
- Myth 4: It's expensive
Folic acid as a single supplement is actually quite cheap, and some women can get folic acid free on prescription if you have a medical card. It is also provided in multi-vitamins - even store own brands - which can be very easy on the pocket.
- Myth 5: You don't need to take extra folic acid for any future pregnancies if you took it during your first
Even if your first baby is unaffected by an NTD, you need to take folic acid during all pregnancies. Fewer women take folic acid during subsequent pregnancies which puts them at risk, and this applies whether or not you have a family of NTDs or not.
Brought to you by safefood.