The county's Comprehensive Perinatal Service Program will participate in various ways in National Folic Awareness Week starting today.
Health officials say the risk of some serious birth defects — spina bifida and improper brain development — can be greatly reduced with the addition of folic acid to a woman's diet.
That is especially important for Hispanic woman, who have a risk 1½ to three times greater than white women for having a child with serious birth defects, health officials say.
Hispanic woman have lower blood folate (natural folic acid) levels and are less likely to consume foods with folic acid or to have heard about taking vitamins with folic acid, health officials say.
Research indicates that consumption of folic acid before and during early pregnancy can lower the rate of neural tube defects by up to 70 percent. The U.S. Public Health Service recommends 400 micrograms of the B vitamin folic acid daily for all women of childbearing age.
It is also recommended that women take multivitamins and consume fortified grains as part of a normal healty diet.
"The baby is developing inside the womb long before you discover you are pregnant," said Karen Waltesr, county perinatal services coordinator. "Thus, it is important for women of childbearing years to take folic acid, even if you're not planning to have a baby."