Are you getting enough folic acid?

January 6, 2020

Folic Acid Awareness Week (Jan. 5-11, 2020) is a nationwide initiative to help prevent neural tube defects (NTDs).

Folic acid is a vitamin that every cell in your body needs for healthy growth and development. If you take it before pregnancy and during early pregnancy, it can help protect your baby from NTDs and birth defects of the mouth called cleft lip and palate.

NTDs are birth defects of the brain, spine and spinal cord. NTDs affect about 3,000 pregnancies each year in the United States. If all women take 400 micrograms of folic acid every day before getting pregnant and during early pregnancy, it may help prevent up to 7 in 10 (70 percent) NTDs.

How can you get folic acid?

You can get folic acid through a vitamin supplement, through the foods you eat or both. However, it’s hard to get all the folic acid you need from food. Even if you eat foods that have folic acid in them, take your vitamin supplement each day, too.

A supplement is a product you take to make up for certain nutrients that you don’t get enough of in the foods you eat. Your folic acid supplement can be:

  • A multivitamin. This is a pill that contains many vitamins and other nutrients that help your body stay healthy.
  • A prenatal vitamin. This is a multivitamin that is made for pregnant women. Your health care provider may give you a prescription for prenatal vitamins, or you can get them over the counter without a prescription.
  • A supplement that contains just folic acid

How can you get folic acid from food?

You can get folic acid from foods that are fortified with folic acid. Fortified means a food has folic acid added to it. Look for the word “fortified” or “enriched” on labels on foods like bread, breakfast cereal and pasta. Some fruits and vegetables are good sources of folic acid, too. When folic acid is naturally in a food, it’s called folate. Foods that are good sources of folate are beans, leafy green vegetables, broccoli and orange juice.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggests blending 1 small banana, ½ cup mango, ½ cup pineapple, ¾ cup orange juice and ice in a blender for a quick, healthy boost of folate.

How much folic acid do you need?  

Because nearly half of all pregnancies in the United States are unplanned, all women who can get pregnant should take folic acid every day.

  • Before pregnancy, take a vitamin supplement with 400 mcg of folic acid every day. Start taking 400 mcg of folic acid each day at least 1 month before pregnancy through the first 12 weeks of pregnancy.
  • During pregnancy, take a prenatal vitamin each day that has 600 mcg of folic acid in it. Folic acid only works to prevent NTDs before and during the first few weeks of pregnancy. Later in pregnancy, you need 600 mcg of folic acid each day to help your baby grow and develop.

If you’re at high risk for having a baby with an NTD, talk to your provider about taking a higher amount of folic acid.

Learn more about folic acid and why it’s important for your baby.