Our bodies need folic acid all the time, but never more so than during the early weeks of pregnancy. Taking a daily prenatal vitamin with the recommended 400 micrograms (mcg) of folic acid before and during pregnancy can help prevent birth defects in your baby's brain and spinal cord.
Folic acid, which is also called folate, is a B vitamin. Folic acid plays an important role in the production of red blood cells and helps your baby's neural tube develop into her brain and spinal cord.
Birth defects occur early in pregnancy, within the first 3-4 weeks, so it's important to have folic acid in your system during those early stages when your baby's brain and spinal cord are developing. The CDC recommends that you start taking folic acid every day for at least a month before you become pregnant, and every day while you are pregnant. However, the CDC also recommends that women of a childbearing age take folic acid every day, so you'd be fine to start taking it even earlier.
The recommended dose for all women of childbearing age is 400 mcg of folic acid each day. If you take a daily multivitamin, check to see if it has the recommended amount. While you're trying to conceive and throughout pregnancy, women need 400 mcg of folic acid per day, It’s also recommended that breastfeeding women continue to take folic acid.
Without enough folic acid in your body, your baby's neural tube may not close correctly and she could develop health problems called neural tube defects such as spina bifida . Getting enough folic acid may reduce your baby's risk of neural tube defects by more than 50 percent. According to the CDC, if you've already had a baby with a neural tube defect, getting enough folic acid may reduce your risk of having another child with a neural tube defect by as much as 70 percent.
When taken before and during pregnancy, folic acid may also protect your baby against cleft lip and palate, premature birth, low birth weight, miscarriage and poor growth in the womb.
Folic acid has also been suggested to reduce your risk of pregnancy complications (one report found that women who took folic acid supplements during the second trimester had a reduced risk of preeclampsia), heart disease, stroke, some types of cancers and Alzheimer’s disease.
Foods that can help you get more folic acid in your diet include fortified breakfast cereals, beef liver, lentils, spinach, egg noodles and great northern beans among many others.
If you have questions about your prenatal vitamins or foods that contain folic acid, please don’t hesitate to ask us at your next appointment, we’d be happy to help ensure the best start for your baby!