You hear all the time that folic acid is important during pregnancy, but do you know why? Julia Robertson, CPM, a teratogen information specialist with the Utah Department of Health who counsels women, healthcare providers and the general public through the MotherToBaby Utah program, is here to explain.
What is folic acid?
Folic acid or folate (vitamin B9) is a water-soluble vitamin that helps make new and healthy cells. It’s not stored, nor does it concentrate in the body, which means that what’s not absorbed gets excreted when we urinate.
Why is it so important during pregnancy?
An adequate level of folic acid in the bloodstream is needed before getting pregnant. The best practice for women of childbearing age (18 to 44 years old) is to take a multivitamin with folic acid every day. Folic acid helps to reduce the risk of neural tube defects, such as spina bifida (when the spinal column does not completely close) and anencephaly (an absence of part of the brain and skull). These birth defects cause long-term disabilities and even death, and taking folic acid has been shown to reduce the risk by as much as 50 percent.
How much do I need?
It’s important that women of childbearing age consume 400 mcg of folic acid daily. For most women, multi- and prenatal vitamins have adequate doses of folic acid, so there is no need to take an additional supplement. If you have had a previous pregnancy with a neural tube defect, your healthcare provider may recommend a higher dose.
Can I meet my daily quota through my diet?
Even after the fortification of flour, breads, cereals and pasta, women are not getting enough folic acid, so it’s important to take a multivitamin with folic acid daily.
Should I continue to take a supplement after baby?
Women should stay on their prenatal vitamin or take a multivitamin with folic acid after baby is born. These supplements contain other important vitamins and minerals (e.g., calcium and iron), which are helpful for maternal health while breastfeeding. Plus, keeping folic acid in your blood stream can benefit the baby in your next pregnancy.