Healthy diet can prevent
birth defects, says expert

Consuming food rich in folic acid and other nutrients can help pregnant women protect their unborn babies from Neural Tube Defects (NTD), or birth defects of the brain and spinal cord, and other congenital defects, an expert says.

Prima Progestian, an obstetrics and gynecology specialist, said on Sunday that foods rich in folic acid (folate) played an important role in reducing the risks of NTDs or congenital defects on the tubes of the spinal nerves.

They even could reduce risks of megaloblastic anemia and lower homocysteine levels in the blood, which can trigger preeclampsia in pregnant women with high homocysteine levels in their blood.

“Women can reduce the risks of NTDs by up to 80 percent by consuming foods rich in folate both before and during their pregnancies, especially in the first quarter of their pregnancy,” Prima told journalists.

Studies show, however, that spinal nerves form during the first 10 to 11 weeks of pregnancy. The problem is, many women are not aware that they are pregnant so early.

“Many disablements occur even before a woman realizes that she is pregnant. Therefore, preconception nutrition is an important thing in preparing for a pregnancy. It will keep the pregnant women healthy and prevent congenital defects in the newborns,” Prima said.

During the critical and sensitive periods in early brain development, pregnant women must already be well-supplemented.

“Instead of only taking nutritious food during pregnancy, women who are preparing to have their pregnancy should begin a healthy diet so that they can have enough supplementations of folate and other nutrients during the crucial times of early brain development,” he said.

By consuming foods rich in folic acid, he added, pregnant women could reduce the level of homocysteine in their blood, lowering the risk of complications during pregnancy, such as preeclampsia, premature birth and even still births.

Unfortunately, many pregnant women do not have sufficient folate intake, not only during the pre-conception period but also in the early weeks of their pregnancy since most of them suffer from nausea.

Nadia Lety Octaviani, a 31 year-old expectant mother who works in a furniture shop in Kebon Jeruk, West Jakarta, suffered from severe “morning sickness” when she was only 2-3 months pregnant.

“I threw up everything that I ate or drank,” said Nadia, who will soon give birth to her first child. She said the severe nausea made her fell dizzy and faint.

“I could not eat anything other than fruit and milk until my fourth month of pregnancy.”

Artati Haris, a 31-year-old social worker, had a similar experience during the first six weeks of her pregnancy.

“I could not stop vomiting,” she said, adding that during the difficult period, she could eat only pears and drink milk or just water.

No cause of “morning sickness” has been identified so far, but many scientists agree that most women feel nauseous due to changes of hormone levels during pregnancy.

Citing studies, Prima said that nausea could occur due to various reasons, including increased levels of hormones such as estrogen, progesterone and Human Chorionic Gonadotrophine (HCG). Of all those hormones, however, most scientists point the finger at progesterone as the main causer of nausea during the early period of pregnancy.

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