Mercy (not her real name) gave birth to a handsome baby boy 3 months ago. This was supposed to be a happy moment, a moment of finally meeting her prince after 9 months of patiently waiting. But it wasn’t so because the baby was born with spina bifida- a serious birth defect of the spine. This has brought sadness and worry in equal measure to Mercy and her family.
Mercy’s son now joins a statistic of more than 300,000 babies worldwide that are born with serious birth defects of the brain (anencephaly) and spine (spina bifida) each year according to Center for Disease Control (CDC).
Anencephaly happens when the brain and skull do not form correctly. Babies born with anencephaly do not survive. Spina bifida, on the other hand, happens when the spine does not close correctly. Babies born with spina bifida can survive, but face lifelong medical challenges such as being paralyzed and no bowel and bladder control. This simply means overwhelming financial and emotional impacts that a family has to endure.
In my chat with Mercy, she confessed to never taking folic acid or any other supplements for that matter at any stage of her pregnancy. In fact, she started going to an antenatal clinic on her 8th month of pregnancy and it was because she was unwell. This was partly because of ignorance and poverty- she says her mother gave birth to all her siblings at home and therefore she couldn’t see any need of attending antenatal care besides, she could not afford the 100 shillings antenatal fee every month!
Mercy’s story is enough evidence to show that not going for antenatal care early enough and not taking important supplements during pregnancy have irreversible repercussions.
To prevent these neural tube defects, it is recommended that all women who are actively trying to conceive or are of childbearing age to consume 400 micrograms of folic acid daily before and during early pregnancy.
We all need folic acid because our bodies use it to make new cells. But folic acid is particularly important for women who can become pregnant. This is because half of the pregnancies are unplanned and these birth defects occur very early in pregnancy that is between 3-4 weeks after conception before most women know they are pregnant.
There are two easy ways to ensure you get enough folic acid each day:
Take a multivitamin containing 0.4 mg of folic acid every day or
Eat foods that are rich in folic acid every day. Examples of such foods include:
Vegetables: Okra, Spinach, Broccoli, Lettuce, carrots
Fruits: Avocado, Papaya, Oranges, grapes, banana, strawberries.
Meats and alternatives: Beans, Lentils, Peas, Meatless (fish sticks, meatball, chicken), Liver (turkey, chicken, beef, lamb, pork)
Seeds and nuts: pumpkin, sesame, sunflower, flax seeds, almonds
Incorporating folic acid into your daily diet is simple, is inexpensive and takes less time than performing even the simplest task yet it can make all the difference between having a healthy baby or a baby with a neural tube defect. Rise and take action TODAY!!!!