Statistics indicate that fewer than one in three pregnant women in India have access to iron and folic acid supplements, according to NFHS-IV. This is even after the percentage of women consuming these supplements during pregnancy doubled between 2005/06 and 2015/16, from 15% to 30%. There is a need to generate awareness about the importance of folic acid supplementation before and during pregnancy.
Folic acid is needed for the normal development of the baby. It can help prevent major birth problems called neural tube defects or NTDs; women need to take folic acid every day not only starting in the first trimester but even before they become pregnant to help prevent NTDs.
The B vitamin folic acid helps prevent birth defects. If a woman has enough folic acid in her body before and while she is pregnant, her baby is less likely to have a major birth defect of the brain or spine. Some general symptoms of folic acid deficiency include headache, nausea, irritability, fatigue, acne, sore tongue, and cracks at the corner of the mouth. At an advanced stage it can also cause GI problems.
The Way Forward
- Pregnant women should include as many food categories rich in folic acid as possible in their diet, apart from supplementation.
- Fruit and vegetables should be eaten raw whenever possible as cooking destroys folic acid.
- Avoid alcohol as it leads to folic acid deficiency
- Pregnant women have higher requirements and therefore take the doses of this essential vitamin as advised by the doctor/dietician/nurse.
- Increase the use of wheat flour and soya flour in baking and food preparation