Vitamin B9 or folate which is commonly known as folic acid is very important for women who are pregnant or are about to conceive. There are many reasons to support it.
Folic acid helps in preventing serious birth defects which are related to spinal cord and brain. If you start taking the minimum recommended dose of folic acid a month before you plan to conceive, it can reduce the risk of neural tube defect in the baby by about 70%.
Folic acid also helps in lowering the risk of other defects in babies such as cleft lip, cleft palate and other kind of heart related disorders.
Vitamin B9 or folic acid is very essential for the body to produce normal red blood cells which can prevent anemia. It is also important for the production and normal functioning of DNA, which is the basic building block of life.
You must take a minimum of 400 micrograms of folic acid every day during pregnancy to prevent neural defects in the baby. Normally 80% of the pregnancies are unplanned, so it is recommended that all women who are sexually active and are in the child bearing age should get 400 mcg of folic acid everyday.
Basically the spine and brain of the baby start to develop in about 3 weeks after conception. So make sure that you consume the minimum recommended dose of folic acid before conception and during the first 3 months of pregnancy.
Be careful that you do not consume more that 1000 mcg of folic acid in a day unless your doctor prescribes it. Too much of folic acid can be harmful as it creates a condition called pernicious anemia.
There are number of food items which are rich in folic acid. Some of them are lentils, dark green vegetables like broccoli, collard or turnip greens, dried beans, asparagus etc. Make these foods a part of your daily diet. But sometimes it happens that folate can be destroyed during cooking or storage. So it is important to take supplements of folic acid as per the prescription of your doctor.
There are signs which will tell you that you are deficient in folic acid, but these are very subtle. You may feel loss of appetite, diarrhea, headaches, general weakness etc.