29 Aug Why is Folic Acid Important During Pregnancy?
Women of reproductive age need 400 mcg of folic acid every day, increased to 600 mcg daily during pregnancy.²
September 12-18 is Folic Acid Awareness week with the National Birth Defects Prevention Network. This is a great time to highlight the importance of folic acid during pregnancy and specifically, before you become pregnant.
Women of reproductive age who may become pregnant should eat a healthy diet with varied natural sources of folate, such as dark leafy greens, beans and citrus fruits. When you eat a diet rich in these foods, folate is converted to Vitamin B9 in the gut and then used for various needs by the body.¹
Folate and folic acid is used by the body to make new red blood cells (prevents anemia) and the genetic material in cells (DNA). Naturally, it’s also critical for the healthy growth of a baby in the womb, which involves the development of the neural tube in the first month of pregnancy (early formation of brain and spinal cord).
Folic acid is the synthetic form of folate. It’s a stable chemical and often used to fortify foods like rice, pasta, bread and breakfast cereals. It’s also in prenatal vitamins. Folic acid is converted to its active form in the liver. Some people have lower levels of the enzyme required to convert folic acid for use in the body and unconverted folic acid can build to undesirable levels. This is why it’s important only to take the amount recommended by your provider and the serving amount on your bottle of prenatal vitamins.
Can Folic Acid Reduce the Risk of Birth Defects?
Folic acid has been shown to reduce neural tube defects; malformations of the spine and brain. The neural tube forms in the first 28 days of pregnancy. Eating a diet rich in folate and taking an additional 400 mcg of folic acid daily, at least 1 month before pregnancy, reduces the risk of neural tube defects.²
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommends increasing folic acid to 600 mcg every day during pregnancy. If you had a baby born with neural tube defects, ACOG recommends taking 4 mg of folic acid every day at least three months before pregnancy and during the first trimester. Of course, you’ll want to talk with your provider about these recommendations in consideration of your past medical history.
Folic acid is also thought to decrease the risk of heart abnormalities and cleft lip and palate in your developing baby, and lower your risk of anemia, miscarriage, preterm delivery and having a low birth weight baby.
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Start with a healthy diet rich in natural sources of folate and supplement with the recommendation of your health care provider.
- Centers for Disease Control (CDC). April 2021. Folic acid. https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/folicacid/about.html
- The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG). March 2022. Nutrition during pregnancy. https://www.acog.org/womens-health/faqs/nutrition-during-pregnancy