Contraception has certainly evolved. Dating back to ancient Egypt, vaginal pessaries made of crocodile dung and vaginal sponges soaked in vinegar in order to be 'spermicidal' were used, so I'd say we've come a long way with contraceptive methods. 

However, it seems like majority of women who are considering pregnancy at some stage are in the dark of a beneficial vitamin that should be taken pre-and post-pregnancy (at least Beyonce was clued up during her pregnancy back in 2012 – she was reported to be taking folic acid pills back then).

Read more: How birth control nearly ruined my life

Taking folic acid should begin long before you consider getting pregnant, says Dr Karen Fieggen, medical geneticist and paediatrician at the University of Cape Town and Professor Lee P. Shulman, Professor in the department of obstetrics and gynecology at North-western university in Chicago.

Folate is needed for a number of biological functions, but it is particularly important for DNA repair and replication. It's therefore a significant nutrient before and during pregnancy.

A deficiency of this vitamin during pregnancy is strongly associated with a birth defect called spina bifida, which is a result of partially formed neutral tubes.

The plight of neural tube defects (NTDs) in the early stages of pregnancy and related complications can be reduced if proper care is taken, explains Dr Fieggen and Professor Shulman, and if more women are made aware of the options available to them.

NTDs are major malformations resulting from the failure of the neural tube to close properly and can have serious consequences for a child’s quality of life. Watch the video below for more info.

Normally, the neural tube closes in the first few weeks of pregnancy often before a woman even knows that she is pregnant.

However, Professor Shulman stresses that taking folic acid at the right time cannot be emphasised enough as a primary intervention mechanism to mitigate NTD prevalence, particularly among women in their reproductive age.

But what exactly is folate and folic acid?

Here's a quick fact sheet on some of the things you need to know.

The devastating effects of NTD necessitates an early preventative measure to build-up the necessary level of folate among child-bearing women, says Dr Fieggen and Professor Shulman.

There’s folates in other dietary intakes too but you’d need to have, for example, ten slices of bread per day...

Since folates belong to the group of B vitamins and cannot be produced by the body, women should talk to their doctors about the available options of supplementing folate prior to contemplating even getting pregnant.

Food fortification 

In countries like South Africa, the best way to introduce folic acid is through food fortification, explains Dr Fieggen.

Although we do have food fortification that was introduced in 2003 – food items like maize meal and bread flour were mandatorily fortified with folic acid – it’s a relatively small dose, explains Dr Fieggens.

"We know that’s not enough and if you’re just going to rely on food fortification alone as your folates, it's not going to work.

"There are folates in other dietary intakes too but you’d need to have, for example, ten slices of bread per day. No one is going to eat that many slices.

Read more: Could your birth control give you deep vein thrombosis?

"So there is clear evidence that there is a need for additional folic acid. And women of reproductive age don’t have normal folate levels, and they’re not taking enough folic acid in their diets," says Dr Fieggen.

WATCH: The facts, benefits and myths behind folic acid

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