This week — January 7-13 — is Folic Acid Awareness Week. Did you know that taking folic acid before and during early pregnancy can prevent up to 70 percent of some serious birth defects of the brain and spine?
Folic acid is a B vitamin that is necessary for proper cell growth. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Public Health Service recommend that all women between the ages of 15 and 45 consume 400 micrograms (mcg) of folic acid daily to prevent two types of neural tube defects, spina bifida and anencephaly. These birth defects develop within the first few weeks of pregnancy, which is why it’s important to have enough folic acid in your body BEFORE becoming pregnant and to continue getting enough during early pregnancy.
Every woman needs folic acid daily, whether she’s planning to get pregnant or not. For one thing, almost half of all pregnancies in the United States are unplanned. Also, folic acid helps the body make healthy new cells. The body — the skin, hair, nails and other parts of the body — makes healthy new cells daily.
Women who could possibly become pregnant can consume 400 mcg of folic acid every day by:
taking a daily multi-vitamin containing folic acid, and
eating fortified foods like grains, pastas, or breakfast cereals.
For more information on folic acid, visit the CDC website or the National Birth Defects Prevention Network website.
By Vinita Oberoi Leedom, SC Birth Defects Program Manager
Every year in South Carolina, approximately 1,800 infants are born with a birth defect. That means roughly 1 in 33 babies born in our state each year will have a birth defect. Babies who survive and live with birth defects are at an increased risk for developing many lifelong physical, cognitive, and social challenges.
The South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control is joining the National Birth Defects Prevention Network (NBDPN) this January, National Birth Defects Prevention Month, to raise awareness of the prevalence of birth defects and strategies that reduce the risk of birth defects and their complications.
Although not all birth defects can be prevented, all women who could become pregnant or are pregnant can lower their risk of having a baby with a birth defect by following some basic health guidelines throughout their reproductive years. This includes, “making a PACT for prevention”:
Get as healthy as you can before you get pregnant.
Get 400 micrograms (mcg) of folic acid every day.
Avoid harmful substances.
Avoid drinking alcohol and smoking.
Be careful with harmful exposures at work and home.
Choose a healthy lifestyle.
Eat a healthy diet that includes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low fat dairy, lean proteins, and healthy fats and oils.
Be physically active.
Work to get medical conditions like diabetes under control.
Talk to your doctor.
Get a medical checkup.
Discuss all medications, both prescription and over-the-counter.
Talk about your family history.
Efforts to raise awareness of this prevalent issue help to provide hope for reducing the overall number of birth defects. The South Carolina Birth Defects Program has resource materials available on our website to assist you in raising awareness of birth defects as a public health issue in your community. For more information about birth defects, please click here.