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May 5th, 2008
10:43 AM ET

Dishing on folic acid

By Jennifer Pifer
CNN Medical Senior Producer

I am getting married in October.  Since my fiancé and I got engaged, most of our free time has been spent planning the wedding, selling our individual homes and looking for a new home to buy together. Getting married in your 30s seems much more complicated than getting married in your 20s. There are lots of balls to juggle.  Just when I think I'm getting into a rhythm, something else comes up.

Take what happened a few weeks ago.

My future in-laws were over helping us get my fiancé's house ready to put on the market.
My future mother-in-law and I were in the kitchen organizing the cabinets.

"Now I know it's none of my business," she said as she deftly sorted orphan silverware and mismatched mugs, "but if you are thinking about starting a family in the next year, you need to start taking folic acid."

I haven’t even found a wedding dress. Now I have to start planning for a baby?

Turns out, my betrothed's very wise mother is right. Doctors have known for years that women who take folic acid before they get pregnant cut down the risk of serious birth defects such as spina bifida. Now new research suggests women who take folic acid supplements for a least a year before they become pregnant can slash their risk of having a premature baby by half. That, in turn, can lower the risk of things like cerebral palsy, physical disabilities like blindness and mental retardation.

Intrigued and new to the world of all things prenatal, I called Dr. Radek Bukowski at the University of Texas Medical Branch. He's the doctor leading this research. "Folic acid has a lot of powerful effects," Dr. Bukowski says, but "nobody really knows why folic acid works." One of the leading theories, says Dr. Bukowski, is that if it is taken before conception and during the first few months afterwards "maybe it protects against infection."

Dr. Bukowski also told me the average woman, with no history of having children with birth defects, can get enough folic acid in a multivitamin. It seems like a simple step all women can take to increase the odds of having a health baby. Moms out there – what other things would you suggest? And what do you wish other moms had told you before you got pregnant?

As for me, I have some more research to do. Wonder if folic acid can help me lose 10 pounds in time for my wedding?

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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.

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