Folic acid in pregnancy and special smiles

While cleaning out the medicine cabinet over the weekend, I chanced upon the amber coloured folic acid tablet strips. I used to religiously pop them before baby V happened. One of the first things we did once we decided to have a baby, was, to up our healthy lifestyle game. This included me starting my folic acid tablets, because, that is what everyone recommends, no?- to have them regularly, atleast 6 months before conception, right through the first trimester. Of course, all this self care happened before I stepped into motherhood.

But I remember doing a little bit of research and feeling amazed that these tiny tablets of Vitamin B did so much good. At a glance, here is a tiny summary of my research back then

Pregnancy is usually the time women start taking special care of their bodies, and prenatal folic acid supplements starts right at the beginning

Folate helps in the development of the neural tube and also prevents brain and spine defects in the developing embryo.

Folic acid also helps in production of red blood cells, thus preventing anemia.

Research shows, that folic acid is essential for production of DNA and placental growth.

Some studies also showed that folic acid improves fertility in both women, and men, making it perfect for couples trying to conceive.

Women who consume appropriate levels of folic acid also reduce the resk of delivering prematurely by 50%.

A study also suggests, that folic acid considerably reduces the risk of orofacial clefts in the baby. I remember, I had only recently read Wonder by R.J.Palacio and although Auggie, did not technically have a simple cleft palate, I knew what it meant, biologically and practically.

I know a few dear children with cleft palate, and am going to digress for a bit. Feel free to skip to the last paragraph in that case.

One of my favourite books to gift children going into or out of cleft surgery, this book speaks of the challenges and courage faced by/ required of cleft children.

A cleft palate is a condition, where the two plates of the skull that form the roof of the mouth, do not join. Obviously, this results in problems with speech development, eating, and immunity.

This condition, like all others, is a result of the combining interaction of genetic factors and environmental reasons. Most of the genes whose mutation causes cleft palate have been identified. Also, research says that alcohol abuse and smoking during pregnancy has a relation to occurrence of cleft in the baby.

Fortunately, for us, it is a usually diagnosed during the prenatal ultrasound. But when it isn’t, it is very treatable (surgery and speech therapy, usually), depending on the severity of the cleft. Of course, this is discounting the emotional and psychological strain it puts on the child, as well as the family.

I recently came across Anamaya , a multicenter cleft prevention program in association with the International Cleft Prevention Foundation. Their aim is to minimize birth defects by better diagnosis and screening; vaccinations and preventive interventions through research, education and community service. They have a program called “Go Folic before you Frolic” that caught my eye, for both, the intention behind the program, as well as the word play in the title. You may also follow them on Facebook, to volunteer with them, here.

The moral of the story being, if you know someone newly pregnant or trying to conceive, ask them if they are having their folic acid tablets. (Note- It is not to be used as an OTC medication and only under the guidance of the gynaec).

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