You probably already know that taking a 400 mg folic acid supplement daily from around three months before you start trying for a baby significantly reduces the odds that your baby will have certain birth defects. Now, research shows that you should add a vitamin B12 supplement into the mix for the best results. Read on to find out more!
Why folic acid?
Folic acid is a B vitamin that occurs naturally in certain foods in which case it is known as folate. It is the only vitamin that has been shown to reduce the risk of birth defects known as neural tube defects significantly. Folic acid is thus much more than a supplement, and it could well save your baby from having spina bifida or another birth defect that affects the spine and the central nervous system. Neural tube defects affect approximately one in 1,000 pregnancies (depending on the country) and the vast majority of those could have been prevented by taking a folic acid supplement. You see just how important folic acid is. Because folic acid takes a while to build up in the body, taking supplements for about three months prior to quitting birth control should be on every couple's preconception checklist. Men who are trying to conceive benefit from folic acid as well, as the B vitamin improves sperm quality. If you are going to try to get pregnant, your partner can take supplements too!
Folic acid AND vitamin B12 the new recommendation
The recommendation to add 2.5 mcg of B12 daily (with a meal) comes from Professor John Scott, founder of the Vitamin Research Unit at the Institute of Molecular Medicine at Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland. He is considered the world's leading expert on the matter. Scott said: "It is clear that, as well as the addition of a folic acid supplement (400 mcg per day), the addition of a vitamin B12 component of at least 2.5 mcg per day would bring about a further significant and worthwhile risk reduction for neural tube defects."
What are neural tube defects?
Neural tube defects (NTDs) make up the most common group of birth defects. The birth defect occurs very early on in pregnancy, in week three after conception, and it involves an opening in the spinal cord or brain. Open NTDs are completely exposed to the elements, while closed neural tube defects are covered by skin. The latter occurs less frequently.
Spina bifida is the most talked about of all neural tube defects, but it is not the only one that deserves your attention as a person trying to conceive or considering having a baby. The most severe form of spina bifida has the spinal nerves exposed through an opening at the person's back. There are also many less severe variations of spina bifida.
Anencephaly is a condition in which the developing fetus either has no brain at all, or has a brain but no skull. In the latter variation, the brain may be eroded by amniotic fluid during pregnancy. Babies with anencephaly rarely survive birth, but when they do they generally do not love beyond a few hours.
With encephaloceles, parts of the brain protrude through the skull and are covered with membranes.
Then, there is hydrocephalus (also known as water on the brain). Cerebrospinal fluid builds up in the cavities of the brain, causing the characteristic bulging and large head that most people are familiar with.