You are having a baby or planning a pregnancy. Learn what you need to know about folic acid.
Taking a prenatal vitamin with the recommended 400 micrograms (mcg) of folic acid (vitamin B9), before and during pregnancy can help prevent birth defects of your baby’s brain and spinal cord.
Folic acid is added to some foods and found naturally in others, such as dark green, leafy vegetables, citrus fruit, and whole grains, but it is recommended that you take an additional amount in the form of a supplement (400mcg is recommended until after the first trimester). Supplements are widely available; you can buy it on its own or as part of a pregnancy multi-vitamin.
Natural Sources of Folic Acid
- fortified grains
- brussels sprouts
We often lose the benefits of Folic acid by overcooking vegetables in water, it is better to steam, roast or eat vegetable raw.
Why Take folic Acid?
Folic acid is essential for cell growth and development. It is so important during pregnancy because it helps prevent neural tube defects, such as
- Spina bifida: incomplete development of the spinal cord or the vertebrae
- Anencephaly: incomplete development of major parts of the brain
There is some evidence that folic acid also helps prevent other birth defects too. If your baby is considered to be at higher risk of a neural tube defect, you will be prescribed a considerably higher dose of folic acid (usually 5mg). This is why it is essential you discuss any family history of such defects with your doctor early on in pregnancy if not before you become pregnant. Your doctor may also prescribe a higher dose of folic acid if you have diabetes or have a high BMI. Talk to your doctor if you have coeliac disease or take anti-epilepsy medication as well, as your dose may need to be altered.
When taken before and during pregnancy, folic acid may also protect your baby against:
- Cleft lip and palate
- Premature birth
- Low birth weight
- Poor growth in the womb