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Folic Acid, Pregnancy, and Your Health

Dr. Adam Shoman

Reviewed by
Dr. Adam Shoman

What’s the connection between folic acid, pregnancy, and healthy babies? According to the March of Dimes, folic acid, or more specifically vitamin B9, helps prevent birth defects in the brain and spinal cord when it’s taken before a woman is pregnant and during the first trimester of pregnancy. Folic acid is available in multivitamins and can also be found in a variety of foods most of us eat on a daily basis.

Folic acid isn’t just for the unborn baby; it’s great for Mom, Dad, Grandma, and everyone else too. It plays an important role in the production of normal red blood cells, and some studies suggest that folic acid may help prevent strokes and some cancers.

Folic Acid, Pregnancy, and NTDs

NTDs, or Neural Tube Defects such as spinal bifida and anencephaly, affect up to 3,000 babies per year. Studies show that three out of four women do not take folic acid in any form during pregnancy. Other studies show that if all women were to take folic acid, especially in the early stages of pregnancy, the number of babies born with brain and spinal cord defects would decrease up to 70 percent. NTDs are preventable, so it’s important to remember how much good folic acid brings to the table.

Recommended Dosages of Folic Acid During Pregnancy

A healthy diet that includes foods containing folic acid is always recommended, regardless of whether you’re trying to get pregnant. Multivitamins should contain 800 micrograms of folic acid (check the label) and should be taken daily before you’re pregnant and during the first trimester of pregnancy. If you’ve already had a baby born with NTDs, your doctor will be able to tell you how much folic acid you should be taking. The recommended dosage will probably be somewhere around 4 milligrams — or 4,000 micrograms daily — at least three months before conception occurs and throughout the first trimester, or three months after conception occurs.

According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there is no known toxicity level for folic acid, and you can never have too much. However, they do recommend that you don’t exceed 1,000 micrograms of synthetic (pill form) folic acid per day.

List of Foods Containing Folic Acid

There are a number of different foods you can eat to get your daily dose of folic acid during pregnancy; here is a list of some of them:

  • Orange Juice
  • Asparagus
  • Lentils
  • Spinach
  • Romaine Lettuce
  • Peanuts
  • Broccoli
  • Black beans
  • Enriched bread
  • Pasta
  • Fortified breakfast cereals such as Total

[Page updated January 2016]