The U.S Preventive Services Task Force recommends folic acid supplementation for women planning to or who could become pregnant. These recommendations form the basis of a final recommendation statement published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).
It is vitally important for a mother-to-be to ensure a constant supply of micronutrients for her developing child. While the early days and weeks of pregnancy – when a woman may not even be aware she is pregnant – are critical for fetal development, inadequate nourishment during any phase of pregnancy can affect the baby’s organ systems, birth weight, and even survival.
In addition to the caloric demands, pregnancy also increases the need for specific micronutrients which may not be met through diet alone. In this respect, vitamin C, lysine, proline, and the B group of vitamins, among others, are particularly important for a healthy baby and for preventing complications during pregnancy and delivery. A woman’s requirement for some minerals can increase by more than 50 percent while she is pregnant.
A deficiency of the B vitamin folic acid during pregnancy can lead to serious neural tube defects in the fetus, potentially resulting in miscarriage. Crucially, therefore, a neural tube defect can occur even before a woman is aware she is pregnant. As such, all women of childbearing age should take at least 400 mcg of folic acid daily, regardless of whether they are pregnant or not.