It’s as easy as eating a bowl of cereal, and if all women of childbearing age did it, hundreds of California babies would be born healthy – rather than with defects of the brain and spinal cord that can cause serious disability or death.
That’s the message from the California Dept. of Public Health this week as they focus on getting women to add enough folic acid to their diets to prevent these birth defects, called neural tube defects (NTDs). Folic acid is a B vitamin needed by every cell in the body for growth and repair. When women have at least 400 micrograms of folic acid in their daily diet (about the amount in a bowl of fortified cereal) they reduce their risk of having a child born with NTDs by 50 to 70 percent.
Waiting until you’re pregnant, or planning to become pregnant, isn’t an option. Around 45% of births in California are unplanned, and NTDs develop during the early months of pregnancy, often before a woman knows she’s going to have a baby. The only way to be sure there’s enough folic acid in your diet at the right time is to start now.
NTDs are the most common birth defect in California, impacting one in 1,480 pregnancies, and about 400 babies a year. And less than 50 percent of non-pregnant women reported consuming folic acid regularly in a statewide survey.
For more information about preconception health, visit the Every Woman California website, www.everywomancalifornia.org.