Folic acid is a pregnancy superhero! Taking a daily multivitamin containing the B vitamin folic acid is one of the best ways to prevent birth defects and an important step toward having a healthy baby, yet only about one-third of women know about it.
Folic acid is a naturally occurring B vitamin. It helps a fetus’s neural tube develop properly. The neural tube is the part of a developing baby that becomes the brain and spinal cord. When the neural tube does not close properly, a baby is born with a very serious birth defect called a neural tube defect (NTD).
The good news is that folic acid can help prevent neural tube defects. However, folic acid only works if taken before getting pregnant and during the first few weeks of pregnancy, often before a woman may even know she is pregnant. Since nearly half of all pregnancies in the U.S. are unplanned, it’s important that all women of childbearing age (even if they’re not trying to get pregnant) get the recommended daily amount of folic acid.
The best way to get enough folic acid is to take a multivitamin with at least 400 micrograms of folic acid in it and eat healthy foods. Most multivitamins have this amount, but check the label to be sure. You also can get folate (the natural form of folic acid) in some foods you eat, but most women don’t get the recommended amount of folate or folic acid from foods alone.
About 3,000 pregnancies are affected by neural tube defects each year in the United States. If all women took adequate folic acid before getting pregnant and during early pregnancy, up to 70 percent of neural tube defects could be prevented.