Effects of Folic Acid Deficiency on Prenatal Development

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Pregnancy can be exciting and joyful, particularly when it is planned and welcomed. At the same time, pregnancy can arouse anxiety about caring for the baby properly and providing for the growing child. The expectant mother usually experiences numerous discomforts. She may have frequent nausea, heartburn, insomnia, shortness of breath, painful swelling of the breasts, fatigue, as well as a host of other symptoms throughout her pregnancy. Many of the symptoms caused by pregnancy cannot be avoided. Some conditions, that a child may inherit during development, have little if nothing to do with the mother’s actions before, during, and after conception. Conditions such as down syndrome and sickle cell anemia, may not be able to be prevented by the woman or medical advances during fetal development. However, sufficient nutritional intake by a woman before, during, and after conception will greatly decrease certain disorders an unborn child may obtain. Essential vitamins are necessary for human development in every stage of life. However, during fetal development a pregnant woman’s vitamin intake may mean life or death to her unborn child. A particular nutrient vital to fetal development is Folic acid, which is also known as folacin, or folate. This nutrient is essential for the prevention of anemia, since it is used to make the extra blood a woman’s body needs during pregnancy. Folic acid deficiency anemia is characterized by red blood cells that are larger than normal when referring to this type of anemia. The red blood cells are also deformed, and both their rate of production and their lifespan are diminished (Charlish and Holt 65). Folic acid anemia occurs most often in infants, adolescents, alcoholics, the elderly, pregnant and lactating females, and in those with malignant or intestinal diseases (66). In most cases when an infant develops this deficiency it is due to the mother’s modest intake of the nutrient during fetal development (67). Having an adequate amount of folic acid intake before pregnancy has been shown to lower fetal defects (Jones and Hudson 11). Neural tube defects, oral and facial defects, and obstruction of both cell division and the manufacturing of DNA and RNA are all associated with folic acid deficiency (11). Unfortunately many of these defects “often occur before the mother realizes she is pregnant“(Martoz 392). Consequently, this inadequate progress of fetal development begins to take shape during the first trimester of pregnancy. Neural tube defect will occur in human embryos if there is an interference with the closure of the neural tube which occurs around the 21st to 28th day after fertilization (Charlish and Holt 51). One type of neural tube defect is known as spina bifida. “Spina bifida affects nearly 4000 babies born in the United States every year. Studies show that nearly 75% of all cases can be prevented if the mother-to-be takes folic acid” (Curtis and Schuler 20). Spina bifida is a birth defect that involves the incomplete development of the spinal cord or its coverings. It occurs during the first month of pregnancy when the two sides of the embryo's spine fail to join together, leaving an open area. In some cases, the spinal cord or other membranes may push through this opening in the back (Rogers 24). The condition usually is detected before a baby is born and treated right away. Children with spina bifida often have problems with bowel and bladder control, and some may have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or other learning difficulties, such as hand-eye coordination problems (50). Another neural tube defect is called “Anencephaly which means without a brain“ (51). However, it does not precisely describe a child born with this defect. Children with anencephaly do have a brain, but it is not fully developed. A baby with anencephaly is admittedly “born with little scalp, cranium vault, or brain, but he or she does usually have part of the cerebral trunk“ (51). A...
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