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No Folly in Folic Acid

Updated: 3 days ago

Women planning for pregnancy need 400 micrograms daily of folic acid. Some may need more depending on their health and family background.

What is folic acid?

Folic acid is a form of a B vitamin important for helping the body make new cells. It is found naturally in foods like leafy greens, beans, lentils, broccoli, and more.  Some foods found in the grocery store like breads and pastas have folic acid added, or “fortified”. Adults need this vitamin to create new cells, and the vitamin is critical to a baby as it grows and develops.

Why should women care about folic acid?

Women who are considering pregnancy should have 400 micrograms of folic acid per day to help lower the chance for one type of birth defect, called a neural tube defect, which is among the most common types of birth defects. The neural tube is the very early form of a baby’s brain and spinal cord. The neural tube is forming around 3-4 weeks of pregnancy, so usually a woman does not even know she is pregnant.  Without enough folic acid, there is a higher chance that the tube will not form properly, leaving a small opening that can cause serious nerve and brain damage to the baby. Common types of neural tube defects are called spina bifida or anencephaly.

How much folic acid does a woman need?

The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology, the Center for Disease Control, and the March of Dimes recommend that women get 400 micrograms of folic acid daily if they are of an age when pregnancy is possible. This way, a woman can ensure she has lowered the chance for neural tube defects should she get pregnant. By the time a woman knows she is pregnant, it may be too late to start taking folic acid to lower her chances for a neural tube defect. (However, taking prenatal vitamins throughout pregnancy is also important for the baby’s development.)

If a woman or her partner was born with a neural tube defect or has a child with a neural tube defect, she should have a higher dose of 4000 micrograms, or 4 grams, of folic acid per day. A woman should talk with a prenatal care provider or other provider about a prescription. For women who are unsure about whether they need a higher dose or want personalized information about the chance for birth defects, the Pregnancy Planning Family screen can help. General information about prenatal and genetic screening is also available through Mainstream Genomics’ Free Information Guides.

How can a woman get folic acid?

As mentioned above, certain foods contain a form of folic acid. However, it can be difficult to get enough from diet alone. Multivitamins are available without a prescription, and they usually contain 400 micrograms of folic acid. It is important to check the label to be sure.



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