National Birth Defects Prevention Month: Folic acid deficiency can cause congenital defects

National Birth Defects Prevention Month: Folic acid deficiency can cause congenital defects

Birth defects can have an adverse effect on the physical and emotional well-being of not only the child but also the family, especially the mother. From the moment one conceives, throughout the nine months of pregnancy, motherhood in its myriads of hues can be a wonderful experience, full of hopes and joy. Consequently, finally giving birth to a baby with birth defects can be quite challenging, and take a heavy toll on a woman’s mental health and well-being.

Molly (name changed), 31, Los Angeles, was very happy when she came to know that she was pregnant again after many years. Although her older son was a healthy baby, her mind was anxious about her unborn child. She knew two women at her workplace who had delivered babies with a cleft lip. It remained a mystery because neither the women nor their husbands had a family history of one.

Her pregnancy was going fine until the 18th week when her obstetrician told her what she never wanted to hear. The fetus had a condition called anencephaly, a neural tube defect (NTD). Both Molly and her husband were startled as nobody in either family had a history of NTD. Moreover, she had taken all the precautions recommended by her doctor to ensure a healthy pregnancy. However, after a couple of tests and consultations with a pediatric genetic counselor, she finally came to know the reason: her diet was deficient in folic acid, the prenatal vitamin essential before conception and during early pregnancy.

Molly is not the only woman who went through such a harrowing ordeal. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “Each year in the US, around 120,000 babies are born with birth defects – one every 4.5 minutes. In total, birth defects affect 1 in every 33 babies born in the country and are the cause of 1 in every 5 infant deaths during the first year of life.”

Why is folic acid so important during pregnancy?

The importance of folic acid or vitamin B9 for expecting mothers cannot be emphasized enough because it is linked to fetal growth and development. Although, it occurs naturally in the human body in the form of folate, during pregnancy its requirement increases multifold and thus the woman has to depend on external supplements and other foods rich in folate to meet the same.

During pregnancy, the growing fetus needs the right kind of nutrition in the right proportion. Therefore, deficiency of folate in the mother’s diet can lead to several complications including anxiety and depression, which can disrupt the process of growth and development of the fetus. Folate is essential during preconception and the early trimester of pregnancy as this is the phase when the fetus develops the spine and nerve cells. Therefore, folic acid deficiency in the mother can lead to malformation of the spine, also known as NTD, in the developing baby.

Women should take folic acid supplements, which is a great way to prepare themselves physically as well as mentally for their forthcoming motherhood. Since the majority of pregnancies are generally unplanned, experts recommend that all women between the ages of 15 and 45 ensure they eat well-balanced and nutritional meals, supplemented with multivitamins, which include at least 400 micrograms of folic acid each day.

The key to a healthy baby is a healthy mind

Pregnancy is an exciting time in a woman’s life but the fear of what the future may hold for the unborn child can cause intense anxiety and stress. Despite knowing that one is doing everything possible to give the baby a healthy start in life, the fear of congenital defects remains an omnipresent concern, which can be reduced only through awareness.

Nevertheless, January being the National Birth Defects Prevention Month and also the start of the year is the best time to consider newer ways to lay the foundations for a safe, memorable, and healthy pregnancy.

If you or your loved one or any mother-to-be is going through an anxious phase, contact the Sovereign Mental Health Services at our 24/7 helpline number 866-973-7164 or chat online to know about the best anxiety treatment centers in California. Our certified representatives would be more than glad assist you to find the best residential mental health treatment programs in California.

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