Did you know folic acid isn't just for expecting moms?

HOUSTON (KTRK) -- What wouldn't you do to make sure your baby was born happy and healthy?

According to the CDC, even though one in 33 babies is born with a birth defect, some defects, even those of the brain and spine can actually be prevented.

January is National Birth Defect Prevention Month and as part of this month's mission to educate families on birth defects, doctors are pushing folic acid, whether you're pregnant now or want to be in the future.

When Emma Zohner found out she was pregnant with her baby girl, she visited a Dr. Joey England, a Maternal Fetal Medicine doctor at Memorial Hermann Memorial City and UTHealth. Priority number one? Making sure she was taking folic acid.

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"Folic acid is an essential B vitamin and it's a form of folate. It works to do gene control and cell growth. It's important for DNA," says England.

A lack of folic acid can affect the neural tube where the baby's brain and spine develops.

"It can cause several different birth defect of the baby's brain, such as a severe defect of the baby's brain that's called anencephaly.

Those are babies can only live for a short period after birth.

Spina Bifida is also a neural tube defect and that's when the vertebrae or the baby's back bone doesn't close and the bulges out of the spinal cord past the baby's skin," explains England.

Dr. England says a pre-natal supplement with folic acid should be taken daily.

"When she told me about the benefits of it and how it can help the baby's brain, I was on it. I had a time set up to take the vitamin, so I wouldn't set up, so I wouldn't forget," says Zohner.

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But folic acid is more than just a pregnancy supplement. Doctors say every woman of reproductive age - that's between the ages of 15 and 45 - should take folic acid daily.

"And that's because in the US over 50% of all pregnancies are not planned, and it's that first 28 days of pregnancy that the neural tube is developing and closing that women need the folic acid," says England.

And while Zohner's baby girl is only seven weeks, she's listening to doctor's orders.

"I'm still taking it because it's a vitamin and it's good for my body, and if and when we decide to have more kids, it will be very beneficial for the health of that child," Zohner adds.

The Hispanic population is at highest risk of birth defects.

The FDA has fortified grains, cereals, and corn flours, it's not enough folic acid to prevent defects.

A supplement is essential, and for high risk patients, a prescription pre-natal vitamin might be what the doctor orders.
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