If you are pregnant or trying to conceive, it is crucial that you get proper nutrients and vitamins. Because of this, your daily routine may change. As you prepare your body to carry a baby to term, you may change your diet, work out more, or ramp up your vitamin intake. Vitamin D, E, fish oil, and biotin are recommended for expecting mothers, but the most popular and essential supplement is folic acid.

What is folic acid?

We hear about superfoods such as garlic and blueberries, but when it comes to pregnancy, folic acid is a super-supplement. Folic acid is a man-made version of a B vitamin called folate, which is important for the health and development of everyone, pregnant women in particular. Folic acid helps develop your baby’s DNA and prevents birth defects in your baby’s brain and spinal cord. 

What are the benefits of folic acid?

Folic acid is necessary to help your little one grow. Adding a folic acid supplement to your diet while pregnant helps prevent neural tube defects. The neural tube is one of the first things to grow during pregnancy, forming in the first six weeks. This will eventually become your baby’s brain and spinal cord. Without enough folic acid, your baby’s neural tube may not close correctly, leading to health problems such as:

  • Spina Bifida – incomplete development of the spine. Babies born with spina bifida may become permanently disabled.
  • Anencephaly – underdevelopment of major parts of the brain. Those born with this condition typically do not live long.

With the proper intake of folic acid, you can protect your baby from neural tube defects by 50%. According to the CDC, mothers who have already given birth to a baby with a neural tube defect could reduce their risk of having another child with the same defect by 70%, so long as they get enough folic acid. 

How much folic acid should I take?

Folic acid should be included in your multivitamin, but be sure it contains the recommended amount. All childbearing-age women should take a multivitamin that includes at least 400 mcg of folic acid–if yours does not contain enough, an over-the-counter supplement is available at your local pharmacy. The recommended dosage for expectant parents is as follows:

  • When trying to conceive and the first 3 months of pregnancy: 400 mcg
  • Months 4-9 of pregnancy: 600 mcg
  • If breastfeeding: 500 mcg

What foods are good sources of folic acid?

A supplement is a great way to get the proper folate levels, but incorporating food rich in vitamin B9 is also helpful. For proper fetal growth and healthy cell division, look for foods like: 

  • Legumes like peanuts, kidney beans, peas, and lentils
  • Asparagus
  • Leafy greens such as spinach, kale, and arugula
  • Beets
  • Eggs
  • Fresh citrus fruits
  • Brussel sprouts
  • Nuts and seeds

If you have experienced a pregnancy affected by a neural tube defect, your doctor may recommend a higher dose of folic acid for your next pregnancy. If you have questions about making sure your pregnancy is as healthy as possible, contact our experts today!