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birth defects

Kerry Klein / Valley Public Radio

When Jennine Ochoa became pregnant at the end of 2017, she didn’t know what to expect. At 42, she’d waited longer than most women to start a family. But she said her first five months were easy. “I had no morning sickness, nothing,” she said. “It was completely uneventful until May.”

That’s when a dust storm rolled over her home in rural Tulare County in California’s arid San Joaquin Valley. “A week later I started coughing really bad,” she said. “The hardest I've ever coughed in my life, to the point where I was vomiting.” In just one week she said she lost 10 pounds.

Kerry Klein/KVPR

If you look at the nutrition label on a loaf of bread, you may come across folic acid or folate. It’s a vitamin that, in pregnant women, has been shown to reduce debilitating and sometimes fatal birth defects. For decades, folic acid has been added to some foods, but not others. Now, a new FDA decision to expand those foods could bring the vitamin to more people in the San Joaquin Valley.