LAWTON, OK (KSWO) -The Comanche County Health Department is hoping to raise awareness of the importance of taking folic acid before, during and after a pregnancy.
It's all in an effort to prevent birth defects. Health officials say folic acid is an important vitamin that can help prevent up to 70 percent of defects that affect the baby's spine and brain. The health department is taking advantage of National Birth Defects Prevention Month to provide multi-vitamins to women, and educational material to medical professionals.
The specific birth defects, neural tube defects, begin developing during the first 28 days of pregnancy. For most women, that's before they even realize they're pregnant. So, that's why officials say it's important to start including folic acid in your diet now, no matter where you are in life and keep taking it.
"We encourage women to take 400 mg daily. It is a B vitamin, so your body doesn't store it. It's something you'd need to take every day to keep in your body," explained Sarah Lambaria, a health educator with the Comanche County Health Department.
Lambaria says you can take folic acid in many different forms. The most common is in a multi-vitamin, but you can also take it as a separate supplement. There's also the option of cereals, breads and leafy vegetables, like broccoli and lettuce, and fruits, like bananas and melons.
Lambaria says while she explains the importance of taking folic acid during pregnancy, she says the B vitamin has health benefits for all women.
"It has great benefits for you skin, you hair, your nails. It plays a really important role in building your DNA and healthy cell development and growth," Lambaria said.
It's also important to add that if an expecting mother happens to miss taking folic acid during the first 28 days of her pregnancy, start taking it as soon as you can to help prevent the neural tube defects.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 3,000 pregnancies each year in the U.S. are affected by neural tube defects. From 1994 to 2011, 709 infants in Oklahoma were born with a neural tube defect.