Folic acid – why is it important?

folic acid vitaminFolic acid is a B vitamin that promotes cell growth and helps prevent certain birth defects. It is Folic Acid Awareness Week – a great time to become familiar with how this vitamin can help you and your baby.

Your body needs to make new cells every day for blood, skin, hair and nails. Folic acid also plays an important role in helping red blood cells carry oxygen from your lungs to all parts of your body.

How can folic acid help your baby?

Folic acid helps prevent birth defects of the brain and spine, called neural tube defects, if taken before pregnancy and during the first few weeks of pregnancy.  So it is helpful to get in the habit of taking a multi-vitamin with at least 400 micrograms of folic acid every day, before you become pregnant.

Even if you are not planning to become pregnant, your body needs folic acid for normal growth and development.

What if you’re already pregnant?

Most pregnant women need to take a multi-vitamin with 600 micrograms of folic acid. Talk with your prenatal provider to see if this is the right dosage for you. A pregnant women needs extra folic acid throughout pregnancy to help produce the additional blood cells your body needs during pregnancy. Folic acid also supports the rapid growth of the placenta and fetus.

Can you get folic acid anywhere else?

Yes. Many foods have folic acid added to them. On packages of flour, breads, cereals and pastas, look for the words “fortified” or “enriched” – it means the product has folic acid added to it.

You can also get folic acid in its natural form – folate – in some fruits and vegetables. Folate can be found in spinach, black beans, peanuts and orange juice. Learn about the difference between folic acid and folate here.

Bottom line:

Even if you eat a well-balanced diet that includes fortified foods, fruits and veggies, it can still be hard to get enough folic acid every day.  By taking a multi-vitamin with at least 400 micrograms of folic acid every day, you will be sure to get the amount you need.

 

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