How folic acid plays a role in pregnancy planning

A form of vitamin B, folic acid reduces the risk of brain and spinal birth defects

How folic acid plays a role in pregnancy planning

If you ask Annie Liljegren, an advanced practice registered nurse and a certified nurse-midwife at Sanford Health in Alexandria, Minnesota, a folic acid supplement plays a pivotal role in pregnancy, and pregnancy planning.

When should you take folic acid, and how much?

If a couple is considering pregnancy, Liljegren recommends taking a prenatal vitamin with folic acid starting one to three months before trying to conceive.

“It’s also important for all women of reproductive age, so ages 15-45, to take a multivitamin or a prenatal vitamin with folic acid,” she said.

“Thankfully, the majority of multivitamins out there do have the recommended amount of folic acid,” she added.

However, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends different doses depending on your health and family history.

  • All women: 400 mcg per day
  • Pregnant women: 400 mcg per day
  • Women with previous pregnancies affected by neural tube defects or personal history of seizure disorders: 4,000 mcg per day

The most common neural tube defects, according to the CDC, are spina bifida, a spinal cord defect, and anencephaly, a brain defect. They can happen very early in pregnancy, often before you realize you are pregnant – which is why it’s important to take folic acid supplements ahead of time.

What are the benefits of folic acid?

Liljegren said folic acid has a plethora of benefits, whether you’re pregnant or not.

“In regard to pregnancy, folic acid helps reduce the risk of major birth defects of a fetus specifically to the brain and spine.

“Some additional, non-pregnancy benefits of folic acid are the creation and repair of DNA. Folic acid produces red blood cells, and it may assist in improving brain function in those with mental impairments, such as Alzheimer’s or depression. It may also reduce the risk of heart disease by reducing high blood pressure and improving blood flow,” she explained.

However, it’s important to not take more folic acid than you need.

“Too much folic acid can mask other deficiencies such as vitamin B12 deficiency. If you’re deficient in vitamin B12, that can be associated with nerve damage,” said Liljegren.

While she recommends being diligent about dosages, Liljegren said there’s no reason to stop taking folic acid, even outside of pregnancy.

What are some sources of folic acid?

The most common food sources of folic acid are:

  • Beans
  • Citrus juices
  • Egg yolks
  • Enriched breads
  • Cereals and grains
  • Fruits
  • Leafy green vegetables
  • Nuts and seeds

To get enough folic acid to prevent birth defects, the CDC says you can take a vitamin that has folic acid in it, eat fortified foods, or do both.

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Posted In Nutrition, Pregnancy, Women's