The UK is considering joining a collection of 80 countries worldwide who fortify their flour with folic acid. Experts have mixed views on fortification, but most are in support of the potential new policy. Whilst the majority of research is very positive, some experts suggest that there could be adverse effects from too much folic acid, including minuting, diarrhoea, and headaches. Since the introduction of putting folic acid in flour in the US in 1998, the number of babies born with neural tube defects (problems affecting the brain, spine or spinal cord) has fallen by 23%.
Folic Acid – What Is It?
Folic acid is an important B vitamin which mothers are encouraged to take as a supplement during pregnancy. The recommendation is 400mg per day, but many do not take this. By adding folic acid to an every day staple like flour, rates of spina bifida and other neural tube defects could be greatly reduced from the current rate of around 1 in every 1000 babies born in the UK.
There are some natural sources of folic acid which should also be added to a pregnant woman’s diet:
- Green leafy vegetables including brocoli, spinach, kale and brussel sprouts
- Beans and legumes
- Yeast and beef extracts
- Oranges and orange juice
- Poultry, pork and liver
- Fortified foods such as breakfast cereals.
Shellfish are another good source of folic acid but is not recommended for consumption by pregnant women.
Health And Pregnancy – What Else Should You Know?
There are a number of supplements recommended for pregnant women for the benefit or both mother and baby. These include:
- Iron – This supplement maintains the health of red blood cells which carry oxygen around the body. Low iron levels result in anaemia, which can cause headaches, dizziness and fatigue. Iron is naturally found in green leafy vegetables, red meat, eggs, and fortified foods.
- Vitamin C – Maintains the health of your immune system. It is found naturally in green leafy vegetables and citrus fruits, for example.
- Calcium – Maintains the strength and health of teeth and bones. During pregnancy it is particularly important for your baby’s healthy development. Natural sources of calcium include green leafy vegetables and dairy products such as milk and yoghurt.
There are also certain foods and supplements which should be avoided during pregnancy:
- Vitamin A supplements – too much vitamin A can be harmful to baby
- Soft cheese and soft ice cream
- Undercooked or soft cooked eggs, and egg-based products like mayonnaise. Shop bought jars are safe to consume, but avoid home-made where possible.
Common Ailments and Illnesses During Pregnancy
Pregnancy can bring with it numerous aches, pains and illnesses. Some of these are very common and, although unpleasant and sometimes debilitating, do not require urgent medical assistance. The most common pregnancy ailments include:
- Morning sickness – This can actually hit at any time of day and includes vomiting, headaches and nausea caused by particular foods or smells. This is unpleasant but is generally nothing to worry about. However, extreme levels of vomiting can be dangerous and lead to dehydration. This is called hyperemesis gravidarum and usually involves vomiting 50 or more times per day. If you are not vomiting this often but cannot keep anything down, including liquids, you may need to seek medical assistance.
- Swollen feet and ankles – A small amount of swelling can be considered normal and for the most part can be eased by elevating the feet. A lot of swelling could be a sign of high blood pressure which can lead to pre-eclampsia. If you are worried about swelling you should speak to your midwife or doctor.
- Anaemia – This is quite common during pregnancy but can be easily rectified with supplements and improved diet. Low iron levels can leave you feeling tired and lethargic, dizzy, and can give you headaches. Speak to your doctor or midwife if you are experiencing any of these symptoms.
When To Seek Medical Assistance
If you are pregnant and worried about anything at all, from supplements to aches and pains, you can speak to your doctor or midwife at any time. You can also discuss any symptoms you are worried about with a trained nurse via the NHS Direct phone number – 111
You should seek medical assistance as soon as possible if:
- You are suffering from severe vomiting
- You have severe headaches
- You have high levels of swelling
- You have intense abdominal pains
- You have heavy or prolonged bleeding
- You are suffering from dizziness or light-headedness
- You are very itchy (this can indicate a liver condition)
Your local out of hours service and walk-in centres are always available if your GP surgery is closed. You can get in touch with the out of hours service by calling NHS Direct on 111. They will direct your call after determining whether further medical help is necessary.