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Why Folic Acid Is Important in Pregnancy

And where you can find it


If you're pregnant, your mind is probably filled with exciting thoughts (did someone say 'babymoon'?) as well as concerns about optimum health for you and your baby. You've probably heard about the importance of folic acid. But what is it, and why does it matter so much to women who are expecting?

Folic acid and pregnancy go hand-in-hand for healthy babies. An important B vitamin, it helps the body produce new red blood cells and proteins. Supplementing intake can help women protect their baby against neural tube defects along the spine.

Getting enough of this special B vitamin can also help prevent spina bifida, a congenital disorder that occurs when a baby's back vertebrae don't properly fuse.

What Is Folic Acid?

Now you know why consuming your folates is so important in pregnancy. Why not start out giving your child the nutrition she needs early, and create a healthy life long habit?

As expecting moms, we worry that we're doing everything right for our babies (be prepared: the worrying never ends!). You've probably heard that you should be taking folic acid. “But where can I find folic acid?” It's in dark green, leafy vegetables, legumes, citrus fruit, berries, whole grains, and fortified breads and cereals. Also known as Vitamin B9, folic acid serves a number of functions such as producing healthy blood cells and new proteins. It also is important in cell division, growth, and DNA synthesis.

In pregnancy, getting enough folic acid is important for lowering the risk of neural tube defects, including spina bifida. According to the FDA, about 2,500 babies born in America each year have neural tube defects. It is thought that about 50% may be due to moms not getting enough folic acid.

What Foods Contain Vitamin B9?

Tasty summer fruits on a wooden table 

To get enough folic acid naturally in your diet, be sure you are eating beans, green leafy vegetables, citrus fruits and berries, lentils, and chickpeas. Foods that contain yeast extract as well as fortified cereals and breads are another good source of folic acid. Although liver is a good source of folic acid, eating it in pregnancy can be dangerous due to high retinol levels, which can cause harm to your baby.

Although making healthy food choices with a varied diet is crucial for your and your baby's health, supplementing your intake of vitamin B9 is important. Doctors recommend folic acid supplements in order to ensure your baby is getting all the nutrients needed for healthy spinal development.

Where Can I Find Folic Acid Supplements?

Folic acid supplements are readily available in the U.S. You can find them at your local drugstore, supermarkets, department stores, and health food stores.

How Much Folic Acid Is Required in Pregnancy?

Ideally if you're planning to get pregnant you'll start supplementing your folic acid intake before conception -- your baby's spine begins to develop very early in pregnancy. Ensuring you're getting at least 400 micrograms (mcg) is recommended, but speak to your doctor about how much you should be taking.

If you find you're pregnant and you haven't yet started taking folic acid supplements, don't fret. Remember that neural tube defects are a small risk, though a largely preventable one. Start taking your supplements and if you have any questions or concerns, be sure to speak to your doctor.

You should also speak to your doctor if:

  • you've previously given birth to a baby with a neural tube condition
  • you or your spouse were born with a neural tube defect
  • you take anti-epilepsy medications
  • you have any of the following diseases: diabetes, sickle cell disease, celiac disease, short bowel syndrome, small bowel disease, or thalassaemia.

For some women, increasing your daily folic acid dose by 5 milligrams (mg) may be required.

Looking after your baby's health with pre-partum nutrition will increase the odds of giving birth to a happy, healthy newborn. Good luck!

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