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All about folic acid

Published in Birthing Services, Women's Services, OB/GYN Services Author: Erin Hennen,MD Author: Erin N. Hennen, MD

Folate is a B vitamin that our bodies use to build DNA and promote healthy cell growth and reproduction. Folic acid is the synthetic form of folate and is easier for the body to absorb than folate. It is important that everyone gets enough folic acid daily, but especially women who are pregnant or may become pregnant.

Folic acid helps prevent neural tube defects. These are serious birth defects of the brain and spine such as spina bifida and anencephaly. The fetal spine and brain form in the first few weeks of pregnancy, often before a women even knows she is pregnant. Given that almost half of all pregnancies in the U.S. are unplanned, any woman who may become pregnant should take a multivitamin with 400 mcg of folic acid daily. Women on certain medications or with a family history may be at higher risk for neural tube defects and required an increased daily dose of folic acid. Please consult your OB/GYN prior to taking higher doses.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) women who take the recommended daily dose of folic acid starting at least one month before they conceive and during the first trimester of pregnancy can reduce their baby's risk of neural tube defects by up to 70 percent.

Sources of folic acid and folate

A multivitamin will help fill in the nutritional gaps of your diet, but there are important food sources as well. These include:

  • Fortified breakfast cereal, pasta and bread
  • Dark leafy green vegetables
  • Cow peas (black eye), boiled great northern beans
  • Asparagus
  • Broccoli
  • Avocado
  • Peanuts
  • Orange juice
  • Banana