Doctors often recommend women of reproductive age to take folic acid each day, but what is it really all about? According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), they recommend 400 micrograms of folic acid every day as well as eating food with folate in their diet. Folic acid helps to prevent some major birth defects of a baby’s spine such as spina bifida and the baby’s brain as well such as anencephaly which is when a baby is born without parts of the brain.
Folic acid is a B vitamin, and the body uses it to make new cells such as nails, skin, and hair. Folic acid does not naturally occur and is the synthetic form of folate which is in fortified foods like bread, certain breakfast cereals, and rice and is used in supplements. Folic acid is important before and during pregnancy because when a baby is developing folic acid helps form the neural tube which forms the early spine and brain. It is important to get adequate amounts of folic acid because about half of the pregnancies in the U.S. are unplanned and major birth defects of a baby’s brain occur early in pregnancy such as 3-4 weeks, which is before many women are aware they are pregnant.
Folate is found naturally in some foods such as spinach and other dark leafy vegetables, oranges and orange juice, nuts, beans, chicken, turkey, and whole grains. While some women are able to get enough folic acid through food alone, it is important to know that for some women especially African America women and Mexican women are at a higher risk for not getting enough folic acid each day. It is important to talk to your doctor about your unique folic acid needs and the best way to get it. The CDC recommends folic acid every day at least a month before a person becomes pregnant and everyday while pregnant. When taken before and during pregnancy, folic acid may also protect a baby against premature birth, low birth weight, miscarriage, cleft lip and palate, and poor growth in the womb. Folic acid has also been suggested to reduce the risk of pregnancy complications such as stroke and heart disease. Always consult a doctor before starting any medications.