LA CROSSE, Wis. (WXOW) - With January representing National Birth Defects Prevention nationwide, doctors point out that women who take a folic acid supplement before they become pregnant, lower the risk of congenital disabilities by as much as 50 to 70 percent.
Research shows folic acid can specifically help lower birth defect risks that involve the brain or spinal cord, which can cause neurologic complications that may trigger anything from a learning disability on up to a condition like spina bifida.
Folic acid is part of the vitamin-B family. Its purpose serves many functions, but the main reason doctors recommend the supplement is because it helps the body form healthy cells.
"Research worldwide has shown that it is typically a combination of a healthy diet along with supplements that provide the best benefit," said Ishan K. Shah, M.B.B.S. Resident Physician at Mayo Clinic Health System.
Doctors recommend women who are trying to conceive or are pregnant, take 400 micrograms of folic acid every day and have a healthy diet of fruits, vegetables, and lean meats.
"While most pregnancies are 50 percent unplanned, I recommend women to get on a multivitamin that includes folic acid ideally," said Dennis Costakos, M.D., Neonatal Medicine Chair at Mayo Clinic Health System.
As far as the paternal link to the baby, low folic acid levels in the father have found not to be a contributing factor in a baby's development.
Shah and Costakos said folic acid is essential for everyone because a lack of folate can cause anemia. Shah said that if someone is to feel tingling or numbness, especially in their hands and feet, to seek medical attention, because anemia might be the cause.
Costakos said while we cannot prevent all birth defects, there are more steps to increase a woman's chance of having a healthy baby.