Expectant mothers are advised by medical doctors to take folic acid supplementation leading up to, and during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. However, as many as 50 percent of pregnancies are unplanned within the UK. A lack of folic acid – known as vitamin B9 – in the early stages of pregnancy can lead to neural tube defects in the developing foetus. The neural tube is the structure that eventually develops into the baby’s brain and spinal cord.
Its development begins in the earliest stage of pregnancy, and closes about four weeks after conception.
“A lack of folic acid before and in the early stages of pregnancy is a significant risk factor,” said the experts at the NHS.
An example of a neural tube defect, spina bifida “is when a baby’s spine and spinal cord does not develop properly in the womb, causing a gap in the spine”.
The condition can lead to weakness or total paralysis of the legs, bowel and urinary incontinence, and a loss of sensation in the legs and bottom.
The charity Shine – dedicated to supporting people whose lives have been affected by spina bifida – welcome the Government’s new health policy.
Kate Steele, CEO of Shine, descried the move as “truly momentous”.
Shine said taking folic acid supplementation is proven to reduce the chances of neural tube defects by 70 percent.
The B vitamin is “very important for cell growth and metabolism”, as well as for the development of a healthy baby, said Shine.
In an ideal scenario, the charity recommends expectant mothers to take folic acid supplementation three months prior to conception.
Those who have a family history of epilepsy, diabetes, or coeliac disease are advised to consult their doctor before trying for a baby as a much higher dose of folic acid – only available on prescription – might be needed.
It must be noted that folic acid additives will not be added to wholemeal or gluten-free products.
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