Contact: Collette DuValle, 317-373-2391

January is National Birth Defects Prevention Month

January is National Birth Defects Prevention Month, and January 7-13, 2008 is National Folic Acid Awareness Week. Birth defects affect approximately 120,000 newborns in the United States each year; and are the leading cause of infant mortality and contribute substantially to long-term disability. In Marion County the second leading cause of infant mortality is birth defects with the first being prematurity and low birth weight. Infant mortality is defined as the number of infants who are born alive, but die before one year of age.

Women of childbearing age, which is normally from 15-44 years of age but includes any woman who could have a baby, should be encouraged to practice healthy behaviors, including taking daily multivitamins containing 400 mcg. of folic acid, studies show that this vitamin before and during early pregnancy reduces the risk of birth defects of the spine and brain and other serious birth defects by up to 70%. The birth defects related to a lack of folic acid generally start in the first month of pregnancy, before many know they are pregnant. More than half of all pregnancies in the United States are unplanned, so, it is important to have folic acid in your system before getting pregnant.

Other healthy behaviors to help have a healthy pregnancy and baby and reduce the risk of birth defects are managing chronic medical conditions, having regular medical examinations, and avoiding alcohol, tobacco, and illegal drugs.

Information on Birth Defects Prevention Month is available from the March of Dimes ( and the National Birth Defects Prevention Network ( Information on National Folic Acid Awareness Week is available from the National Council on Folic Acid (

Everyone Needs Folic Acid

Folate is a water-soluble B vitamin that helps the body form healthy red blood cells, aids in protein metabolism and is essential to normal cell growth and division. Folate is the natural form found in foods. Folic acid is the synthetic form of folate found in supplements and fortified foods.

The U.S. recommended daily allowance for folate is 400 micrograms per day for individuals age 14 and older. This amount is found in adult multi-vitamin supplements. Since folic acid plays such a critical role in the formation of genetic material, most experts agree that women capable of becoming pregnant take 400 micrograms/day of synthetic folic acid as supplements or fortified foods as well as eat a variety of folate-rich foods whether they ever plan to get pregnant or not. Pregnant women need 600 micrograms/day and lactating women need 500 micrograms/day of the vitamin. This folic acid supplementation can help prevent major spine and brain birth defects. These defects often occur before a woman knows she is pregnant.

Folic acid is very important for everyone. It may help prevent heart disease, stroke, certain cancers and Alzheimer's disease. Fruits and vegetables provide more than one-third of the folate in the American diet. Natural sources of folate include, but are not limited to:

  • vegetables - asparagus, leafy green vegetables like spinach and turnip greens, broccoli;
  • fruits - oranges, strawberries, cantaloupe and other melons;
  • meat and beans - eggs, dried beans and peas, sunflower seeds, liver Folic acid fortified foods include:
  • grains - enriched cereals, breads, flours, corn meal, pastas, rice, and other grain products.

Take care to preserve natural folate from foods by serving vegetables and fruits raw whenever possible, steam, boil or simmer vegetables in small amount of water, and store vegetables in the refrigerator.

For more information on folate, check out

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