pregnant female holding folic acid supplement in hand

Folic acid in pregnancy is a superhero! Taking prenatal vitamins with the recommended 400 micrograms (mcg) folic acid during pregnancy can help prevent birth defects of the baby’s brain and spinal cord. Take folic acid in pregnancy every day for remarkable benefits.

When to start taking folic acid for pregnancy?

pregnant female holding supplement in hand

Birth defects can occur within the first 3 to 4 weeks of pregnancy. So it is important to have folic acid in your body during the early stages of pregnancy when the baby’s brain and spinal cord are developing.

Most doctors recommend females to start taking a prenatal vitamin with folic acid when they are trying to get pregnant. One study showed that females who took folic acid for at least one year before getting pregnant had at least 50%  reduced chances of delivering early.

The CDC recommends that a female should start taking folic acid every day for at least 30 days before she becomes pregnant. CDC also recommends maintaining an everyday intake of folic acid in pregnancy. 

Make sure to consult your doctor about your prenatal vitamins to make sure it has the recommended dose of folic acid and other essential nutrients. 


The recommended dose of folic acid for pregnancy?

Most pregnant females are advised to take a 400mcg supplement of folic acid every day.  

During the early development of the fetus, folic acid helps form the neural tube and is very important as it can help prevent some major birth defects of the infant’s brain (known as anencephaly) and the spine (known as spina bifida).


Why do some females may need a higher dose of folic acid in pregnancy?

pregnant female at doctor

If a female has a higher risk of having a pregnancy affected by neural tube defects she will be advised to take a higher dose of folic acid, of 5mg.

The pregnant female may be suggested a high dose of folic acid in the following cases- 

  • Have diabetes
  • One of the expecting parents has a neural tube defect
  • The female has had a previous pregnancy affected by a neural tube defect
  • One of the expecting parents  has a family history of neural tube defects
  • The female has epilepsy
  • The female is a heavy drinker


If you have any of the above cases and are concerned about your pregnancy, talk to your doctor to get a higher dose of folic acid as folic acid tablets of 5mg are not available without a prescription. 


How to get enough folic acid in pregnancy?

  • Take a vitamin supplement that has 400mcg folic acid in it
  • Eat fortified foods for folate intake ( some foods such as rice, pasta, cereals, and orange juice in the United States are fortified with folic acid).
  • Get a combination of both- take a vitamin that has folic acid in it and eat fortified foods.


What foods contain folate?

pregnant female eating broccoli

Some healthy foods that contain folate include-


  • broccoli
  • spinach
  • peas
  • chickpeas
  • fortified breakfast cereals.
  • asparagus
  • brussels sprouts
  • leafy greens
  • beets


Eating foods rich in folate alone is not enough to fulfill the needed amounts of folate and would not give the best protection to the baby. So, it is important to consult your doctor for good folate supplements for you. Click here to book an appointment. 

If a female has morning sickness in pregnancy, it may be difficult for her to eat enough fortified foods to get the folic acid that she needs. To make sure she gets enough folic acid, the doctors usually recommend taking a folic acid supplement or prenatal vitamin which contains folic acid before and during pregnancy for reduced risks of pregnancy complications.


There is no way to prevent all birth defects with 100 % certainty. Taking adequate amounts of folic acid in pregnancy can help decrease the risk of:

  • neural tube defects
  • congenital heart defects
  • cleft lip 
  • cleft palate


If you are planning a pregnancy in the future, consider adding a prenatal vitamin with folic acid to your daily routine and taking them with food, to avoid an upset stomach.


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