If you’re considering getting pregnant, you might be thinking about baby names or how you want to fix up the spare room in the house. But you should also be thinking about folic acid. In fact, all of us should be.
Studies show that having enough folic acid — usually through taking this water-soluble B vitamin — helps prevent major birth defects like spina bifida. And it is important for your body to be at the proper level when you first get pregnant. So you should be taking folic acid supplements before or in the very early stages of pregnancy.
Folic acid is important for all of us because it helps the body make healthy new cells. Many women don’t get all of the folic acid they need in their diets — 400-800mcg per day is recommended, even if you are not planning on getting pregnant. So taking it in pill form will help, either way.
Besides helping with healthy births, folic acid is also thought to play a role in heart health and preventing cell changes that may lead to cancer. While research continues, we are sure that every woman needs folic acid throughout her life.
For most of us, the foods you eat serve as a sort of supplement to the folic acid supplements. While foods containing folic acid are certainly good for you, we aren’t sure that they have the same benefits as what you get in pill form. Folic acid is found in fortified cereals, breads, and pastas. And it occurs naturally in lentils; dried beans and peas; dark green vegetables like broccoli, spinach, collard or turnip greens, okra, and asparagus; and citrus fruit and juice.
If you are pregnant or planning on getting pregnant, it is even more important to get 400-800mcg daily in the very early stages of pregnancy. Your doctor will also recommend folic acid prescribe it in the prenatal vitamins you’ll take. If you’ve had a child with spina bifida or have a history of it in your family, your doctor may recommend taking a higher dose of folic acid. You may also need to take a higher dose if you are on seizure medicines.
Folic acid continues to be very important after childbirth; breastfeeding mothers should have about 500mcg for folic acid during this time. Many doctors recommend staying on your prenatal vitamins while breastfeeding.
Be sure to have a preconception visit with your doctor to begin taking folic acid prior to your pregnancy. And, for the rest of us not planning to have a baby, consider taking the recommended dose each day if you aren’t doing so now.