Folic Acid: Why Is It So Important?
Many women have heard that they should be taking folic acid before and during pregnancy, but are not sure why or how much. Here are some of the most important things you need to know about folic acid, and how to make sure you are getting enough.
What is folic acid?
Folic acid is a form of one of the B vitamins — folate.
Where is it found?
Cereals, breads, and pastas are sometimes enriched with folic acid, meaning it is added to them.
Other foods are naturally rich in folate, such as:
- Leafy green vegetables: kale, broccoli, spinach, romaine lettuce
- Cooked dried beans: lentils, black and kidney beans
- Nuts and seeds: peanut butter, sunflower seeds
- Citrus fruits: oranges, grapefruits, tomatoes
Folic acid is also found in multivitamins and prenatal vitamins. Your body absorbs more folic acid from these vitamins than it can from food.
Why is folic acid so important for pregnancy?
Folic acid helps prevent neural tube defects, or NTDs. NTDs occur when a baby’s neural tube, the part that will become the spinal cord and brain, does not develop properly.
NTDs occur very early in pregnancy, before many women know they are pregnant. According to the March of Dimes, up to fifty percent of pregnancies in the United States are unplanned– which is why it is very important for all women to take a multivitamin with folic acid every day.
How can I make sure I’m getting enough?
- All women who could become pregnant should take a multivitamin vitamin with 400 micrograms of folic acid in it every day.
- Pregnant women should take a prenatal vitamin with 600 micrograms of folic acid in it every day.
Some women need to take extra folic acid before and during their pregnancy. Talk to your midwife or doctor about how much folic acid to take if you:
- Have diabetes, a seizure disorder, or sickle cell disease
- Are obese
- Have had a baby with a NTD
- Have questions about how much folic acid you need to take
Where can I get a vitamin with folic acid?
You can buy multivitamins and prenatal vitamins at the pharmacy or grocery store. Talk to your midwife or doctor if you need a prescription for prenatal vitamins.
Make an appointment with your midwife or doctor to talk about folic acid and other things you can do to be sure you are in your best health before you become pregnant.
Resources: marchofdimes.org, American College of Nurse-Midwives, ACOG.org, uptodate.com
Whitney E. Smith, APRN, is a certified nurse-midwife at The University of Vermont Medical Center.