Why you really need folic acid
If you live in a modern Western society (especially if you are over 35), you definitely need supplements during preconception time.
Besides improving your chances to get pregnant, they also give the best start possible to your baby, which will need a lot of support (and B-group vitamins!) in order to grow and develop well during the nine months in your belly.
In finding a supplementing strategy that works best for you, you may first want to focus on the “basics.” This means, regular prenatal supplements that provide B-vitamins, and also folic acid. You are free to choose from any of the well-known prenatal multivitamin brands, only make sure from the label that they contain at least 400–800 µg folic acid.
Start taking them at least three months before you try to get pregnant and continue throughout the first pregnancy months.
Summarized, if you can memorize only one single supplement you should not omit during the preconception time, it is folic acid. Taking folic acid in the months prior to conception contributes to the prevention of severe neurological disorders in babies. In this case, your genes play only a small role, and your decision to take a folic acid supplement can make a huge difference to the future health of your child.
A study published in 2009 in the journal Midwifery, showed that, in a sample of 588 Australian women who were actively trying to conceive, less than one-third took a pre-pregnancy folic acid supplement. Factors that were associated with an increased risk of not taking folic acid were income, smoking in mother, and baby being a non-first child.
So taking only folic acid places you in the top 30% women who are proactive in improving their pregnancy chances.
“A population-based case-control study was conducted to test the hypothesis that the risk of the occurrence of neural-tube defects in infants with no other birth defects is associated inversely with the maternal dietary intake of free and/or total folate in early pregnancy. Information was collected from the mothers of 77 case subjects with isolated neural-tube defects who were born in Western Australia from 1982 to 1984…The findings confirm the hypothesis that the dietary intake of folate in early pregnancy protects against the occurrence of isolated neural-tube defects in infants.”
Scientific literature on folic acid:
- Candito M, Rivet R, Herbeth B, Boisson C, Rudigoz RC, Luton D, Journel H, Oury JF, Roux F, Saura R, Vernhet I, Gaucherand P, Muller F, Guidicelli B, Heckenroth H, Poulain P, Blayau M, Francannet C, Roszyk L, Brustié C, Staccini P, Gérard P, Fillion-Emery N, Guéant-Rodriguez RM, Van Obberghen E, Guéant JL. Nutritional and genetic determinants of vitamin B and homocysteine metabolisms in neural tube defects: a multicenter case-control study. Am J Med Genet A. 2008 May 1;146A(9):1128-33.
- Forster DA, Wills G, Denning A, Bolger M. The use of folic acid and other vitamins before and during pregnancy in a group of women in Melbourne, Australia.Midwifery. 2009 Apr;25(2):134-46.
- Hammiche F, Laven JS, van Mil N, de Cock M, de Vries JH, Lindemans J, Steegers EA, Steegers-Theunissen RP. Tailored preconceptional dietary and lifestyle counselling in a tertiary outpatient clinic in The Netherlands.Hum Reprod. 2011 Sep;26(9):2432-41.
- Monteagudo C, Mariscal-Arcas M, Palacin A, Lopez M, Lorenzo ML, Olea-Serrano F. Estimation of dietary folic acid intake in three generations of females in Southern Spain. Appetite. 2013 Aug;67:114-8.
- Steegers-Theunissen RP. Preconception folic acid treatment affects the microenvironment of the maturing oocyte in humans. Fertil Steril. 2008 Jun;89(6):1766-70.