FAQ: All About Folic Acid During Pregnancy
You may have heard all about folic acid being an essential vitamin you need while you’re pregnant, but what is it, why is it important for pregnant women, and how much should you take? Read through our frequently asked questions on folic acid to find out more!
What Is Folic Acid?
Vitamin B-9, better known as folate or folic acid (the synthetic form of folate), stimulates the production of red blood cells, which help carry oxygen from your lungs to the rest of your body. It also helps support healthy cell growth and function. Folic acid is a vitamin everyone needs, but it’s especially important for women before and during pregnancy.
Why Is Folic Acid Important for Pregnant Women?
Folic acid can help prevent birth defects in the brain or spine. These structures are formed from your baby’s neural tube early in pregnancy, which is why it's crucial to get enough folic acid in the first trimester. Some studies indicate folic acid also helps guard against heart defects and other birth defects like cleft lip and palate.
Can I Get Folate From Food?
Yes. You can get a natural serving of folate from a healthy diet rich in
dark leafy greens, such as spinach and romaine lettuce
lentils, black beans, peas, and pinto beans
nuts, including peanuts
citrus fruit like oranges, lemons, and grapefruit
You can also find folic acid in fortified foods like breakfast cereals, bread, white rice, and pasta. Just check the label to make sure the food has been fortified with folic acid.
Do I Need to Take an Additional Folic Acid Supplement?
It may be hard to get the recommended amount of folic acid from food alone. So, if you’re pregnant, or wanting to get pregnant, you can ensure you’re getting enough by taking a daily vitamin supplement or a prenatal vitamin that contains folic acid.
When Should I Start Taking Folic Acid?
You may not know you’re pregnant in your first month. This is why experts recommend all adult women take a folic acid supplement on a daily basis, even if they’re not pregnant, just to be safe. If you’ve found out you’re pregnant, and you haven’t been taking folic acid, don’t worry; just begin taking your folic acid supplements as soon as possible.
How Much Folic Acid Do I Need?
Adults in general should get a dose of 400 micrograms of folic acid, but women who are pregnant or planning to get pregnant require 400 to 800 micrograms a day from all sources, including a balanced diet. If you’re eating a varied diet with plenty of leafy greens, fruit, and legumes, then an additional 400 micrograms of folic acid may be enough, whether you take it alone or in a prenatal vitamin complex. You may need a higher daily amount of folic acid if you've already experienced a pregnancy with a neural tube defect, or if you're taking certain medications. Talk to your healthcare provider if you’re not sure about how much folic acid you need.
What Are the Signs of Folic Acid Deficiency Anemia?
Folic acid deficiency is rare, because so much food is fortified with folic acid, and anyone eating a balanced diet is likely to get enough. However, folate deficiency can lead to anemia, and may cause symptoms such as lack of energy, pale skin, decreased appetite, diarrhea, irritability, or a smooth, tender tongue. You may also experience these symptoms if you’re deficient in vitamin B12 or iron, so check with your healthcare provider to be sure you know the problem you need to address.
What Causes Folic Acid Deficiency?
As folic acid is present in many foods, whether naturally or in fortified foods, folate deficiency should be uncommon. However, you can be at risk for this condition if:
you follow a diet lacking folic acid
you can’t absorb folic acid due to a disease of the small intestine, for example, celiac disease
you drink too much alcohol, which can interfere with folic acid absorption
you’re taking medication that interferes with absorption, such as anti-seizure medications.
When you're pregnant or breastfeeding, your body needs more folic acid than it normally does. Check with your healthcare provider to make sure you're getting the proper amount of folic acid for your situation.
Folic acid is only one of the many important nutrients you’ll need when you're pregnant or planning to become pregnant. If you’re interested in learning more about pregnancy nutrition, read more about maintaining a healthy pregnancy diet and all about prenatal vitamins, so you and your little one stay well-nourished and healthy.
How We Wrote this Article
The information in this article is based on the expert advice found in trusted medical and government sources, such as the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. You can find a full list of sources used for this article below. The content on this page should not replace professional medical advice. Always consult medical professionals for full diagnosis and treatment.
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