The Importance of Folic Acid for Pregnant Women

Folic acid is found naturally in many foods, especially leafy green vegetables, beans, peas, lentils, nuts, seeds, whole grains, and citrus fruits. The recommended daily intake for women who aren't pregnant is 400 micrograms per day.

Why is folic acid important during pregnancy?

Many supplements and fortified foods contain folate, a B vitamin. It is the synthetic form of folate. Your body uses folate to make new cells and DNA. Folic acid is critical for your normal growth and development. It is particularly important to take folic acid during pregnancy because it is essential to the proper development of the baby's organs. It has been shown that taking folic acid before becoming pregnant may help prevent neural tube defects such as spina bifida and anencephaly (rarely).

Folic acid before and during pregnancy

Every day before you become pregnant and until you reach 12 weeks, you should take 400 micrograms of folic acid.

  • Spina bifida and other birth defects can be prevented by folic acid.
  • As soon as you find out you're pregnant, you should start taking folic acid if you didn't before.
  • Consume green leafy vegetables, which contain folate (the natural form of folic acid), as well as breakfast cereals and fat spreads containing folic acid.
  • For a healthy pregnancy, folate is difficult to obtain from food alone, which is why taking folic acid supplements is important.

Higher-dose folic acid

It is recommended that you take folic acid (5 milligrams) every day until you are 12 weeks pregnant, if you are more likely to be affected by neural tube defects during your pregnancy. 

You may have a higher chance if:

  • There is a neural tube defect in you or the baby's biological father

  • There is a history of neural tube defects in your family or that of the baby's biological father

  • Neural tube defects have affected your previous pregnancy

  • Diabetes affects you

  • Anti-epilepsy medication is taken by you

  • If you are HIV-positive, you take antiretroviral medicine

Talk to your doctor if any of this applies to you. They can prescribe a higher dose of folic acid for you.

Additional screening tests may also be recommended by your GP or midwife during pregnancy.


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