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Folic Acid During Pregnancy: Why is it so important?

Posted on Wednesday, November 9, 2016 by UVM Health Network - CVMC

We always advise women who are pregnant, or thinking about becoming pregnant, to start increasing their folic acid intake. This important vitamin is great for pregnant women and their babies. Here’s a quick guide on the essential 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 pregnant women?

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.  You should talk to your doctor about how much folic acid to take if:

  • You have diabetes, a seizure disorder, or sickle cell disease
  • You are obese
  • You have had a baby with a NTD
  • You 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 doctor if you need a prescription for prenatal vitamins.

Make an appointment with your 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