Folic acid is a pregnancy superhero! Taking a prenatal vitamin with the recommended 400 micrograms (mcg) of folic acid before and during pregnancy can help prevent birth defects of your baby’s brain and spinal cord. Take it every day and go ahead and have a bowl of fortified cereal, too.
What Is Folic Acid?
Folic acid is a man-made form of a B vitamin called folate. Folate plays an important role in the production of red blood cells and helps your baby’s neural tube develop into their brain and spinal cord. The best food sources of folic acid are fortified cereals. Folate is found naturally in dark green vegetables and citrus fruits.
When Should I Start Taking Folic Acid?
Birth defects occur within the first 3-4 weeks of pregnancy. So it’s important to have folate in your system during those early stages when your baby’s brain and spinal cord are developing. If you talked to your doctor when you were trying to conceive, they probably told you to start taking a prenatal vitamin with folic acid. One study showed that women who took folic acid for at least a year before getting pregnant cut their chances of delivering early by 50% or more.
The CDC recommends that you start taking folic acid every day for at least a month before you become pregnant, and every day while you are pregnant. However, the CDC also recommends that all women of childbearing age take folic acid every day. So you’d be fine to start taking it even earlier.
If you picked out your own prenatal vitamin, take it to your OB once you’re pregnant to make sure it has the recommended amounts of everything you need, including folic acid. All prenatal vitamins are not the same and some may have less or more of the vitamins and minerals you need.
How Much Folic Acid Should I Take?
The recommended dose for all women of childbearing age is 400 mcg of folate each day starting three months before you start trying for a baby. Your baby’s spine starts developing straight after you conceive, so you should start taking folic acid when you stop using contraception. Just one daily tablet contains exactly the amount you need. If you take a multivitamin every day, check to see if it has the recommended amount. If for some reason you don’t want to take a multivitamin, you can take folic acid supplements.
When should I stop taking folic acid?
According to medical experts once you reach 12 weeks pregnant your baby’s spine will have developed, so you can stop taking folic acid if you wish. However you can continue to take supplements after 12 weeks if you choose to and it won’t harm your baby to do so. Pregnancy vitamins and supplements which are designed to be taken all the way through pregnancy contain folic acid, as well as other key vitamins for a healthy pregnancy, such as vitamin D.
Can I get folic acid from food?
You can, but probably not enough. The natural form of folic acid, folates, is found in lots of different foods, including green leafy vegetables, beans, chickpeas, lentils and yeast extract. It’s worth remembering that folates will dissolve in water so make sure you’re steaming your veggies to keep the goodness in.
Some foods, such as bread and cereals, are fortified with folic acid – it’ll say so on the packaging. But steer clear of liver– it is high in folic acid, but also contains lots of vitamin A, which could harm your unborn baby. It’s hard to get enough folic acid just from food – the only way you can really know for sure is by popping a supplement. SEE: List Of Nigerian Food To Eat During Pregnancy
What if it’s too late to take folic acid?
Don’t worry – the risk of your baby having a neural tube defect is small, even if you haven’t been taking folic acid. Chat to your midwife at your routine appointment.
Where can I get folic acid supplements from?
You’ll find them in pharmacies, chemists, health food shops and big supermarkets. If you need the higher dose, this will need to be prescribed by your doctor. SEE: List of Nigerian Foods and Drinks to Avoid During Pregnancy