Importance of iron and folic acid in pregnancy

folic acid and iron supplements during pregnancy

What is Folic Acid?

Folic acid is a human engineered form of a vitamin B which is called folate. Vitamin B9 is commonly called Folic acid. In its natural form, it occurs as folate in foods like dark green leafy vegetables, whole grains and pulses, and even oranges. Folate plays a very important role in the production of RBCs or red blood cells and helps in the development of your baby's neural tube into the brain and spinal cord. So the key purpose of including folate in your diet when pregnant is because it prevents the foetus from developing neural tube defects like spina bifida and other birth defects like cleft palate.

Folic acid benefits during pregnancy

Folic acid is not just for the baby but good for you too. It works with Vitamin B12 to help form healthy red blood cells. Folic acid deficiency results in a type of anaemia. The anaemia you are familiar with is the deficiency of iron. Once you discover you’re pregnant (or better still when you start trying to get pregnant), you should start taking a folic acid supplement, and all through your first trimester as well.

How Much Folic Acid Should you be consuming?

The dosage recommended for all women above the age of 18 is 400 mcg of folate/day. If you are already taking a multivitamin every day, you must ensure that it has the recommended amount. If you choose to not take a multivitamin, you could also consider taking folic acid supplements.

Given below are the doses recommended for different stages of pregnancy and beyond:

  • When you're trying to get pregnant: 400 mcg
  • In the first trimester of pregnancy: 400 mcg
  • In Trimester 2 and 3 of pregnancy: 600 mcg
  • While you are breastfeeding: 500 mcg

Iron during pregnancy

Whether you are pregnant or not, your body needs iron for several reasons:

  • Iron produces haemoglobin - the main protein in red blood cells that helps carry oxygen to the tissues and organs.
  • Iron is also an important part of myoglobin, which is a protein that helps in supplying oxygen to the muscles, collagen which is a protein in cartilage, bones and other connective tissue and in many enzymes.
  • Iron also helps to maintain a healthy immune system.

Benefits of iron during pregnancy

During pregnancy you need to have a lot more of this essential mineral. Why is this?

  • The volume of blood in your body increases by 50% when you are pregnant. In order then to make more hemoglobin to keep up with this extra blood volume, you will need extra iron.
  • You will also need extra iron to nurture your placenta and your growing baby, more specifically in the second and third trimesters.
  • A lot of women may need more iron because they enter their pregnancy with low stores of iron to start with.
  • Iron-deficiency or anemia during pregnancy could lead to preterm delivery, low birth weight and even infant mortality.

How to ensure a iron rich diet during pregnancy

Most vegetarians in India will find that their daily Iron needs are not ordinarily met, let alone the elevated levels required when pregnant. This is why India has the highest occurrence of iron-deficiency anaemia among women in the world. Poultry, and fish are some of the best sources of iron. But if your diet doesn't include animal protein, you can get iron from legumes, vegetables, and grains.

You can also help to naturally increase your iron and folate content in your food by including pumpkin, soy, beets, oranges, chickpeas, green leafy vegetables and cow beans.