Hofmeister: This one thing will reduce the risk of birth defects in your future children | MyWindsorNow.com

Hofmeister: This one thing will reduce the risk of birth defects in your future children

Jennifer Hofmeister
Guest Columnist

Hofmeister, Jennifer

Every year 1 in 33 babies are born in the United States with a birth defect. With January recognized as National Birth Defects Awareness Month, I want to make sure all women in northern Colorado who can become pregnant know about a simple way to improve their health to prevent brain and spine birth defects, such as spina bifida.

Spina bifida is the most common neural tube birth defect in the United States, affecting 1,500 to 2,000 babies every year. Spina bifida is characterized by the incomplete development of the brain, spinal cord and/or meninges (the protective covering around the brain and spinal cord). Though children can lead active lives with spina bifida, it is a serious birth defect that can result in severe physical disabilities, and there is no cure for the disorder.

Women can lower the risk of spina bifida in their future children by simply taking one pill a day: folic acid. Studies have shown adding folic acid to a woman's diet significantly reduces the risk of having a child with a neural tube defect, especially if women start taking the supplement before they become pregnant.

Birth defects of the brain and spine happen in the first weeks of pregnancy, often before a woman knows she's pregnant. If a woman doesn't begin taking folic acid until the start of her pregnancy, it leaves a short window for her and her baby to benefit from the supplement. Even if a woman is not planning to become pregnant soon it's best to plan ahead and start taking folic acid today.

The easiest way for women to incorporate folic acid into their diet is by taking a supplement every day. Folic acid is available as an individual supplement or as part of a multivitamin. Always check the label to make sure it contains the recommended 400 micrograms of the supplement.

Folic acid also can be found in foods such as enriched breads, pastas and cereals. For the past decade, the FDA has required manufacturers to fortify these foods with folic acid. In addition to supplements and fortified foods, women also can eat a diet rich in folate, which can be found naturally in beans, peas, lentils, oranges, asparagus, broccoli and dark leafy green vegetables such as spinach and kale.

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Even women who are not planning to become pregnant can benefit from getting enough folic acid every day. Our bodies make new cells every day — blood, skin, hair, nails and more. Folic acid is an important part of making these new cells. Deciding to start taking folic acid is one of the easiest healthy habits women can start today.

Banner Health and North Colorado Medical Center are here to support women through their entire pregnancy — from the time they decide they want to have a baby to when they are leaving the hospital with their new baby in their arms. If you have questions or want to learn more about our services, please go to http://www.bannerhealth.com.

— Jennifer Hofmeister is a physician's assistant at Banner Health Clinic Loveland.