Why You Need More Folic Acid in Your Pregnancy Diet
Why You Need More Folic Acid in Your Pregnancy Diet

by Jill Tomlin

Are you getting enough folic acid? Learn why this vitamin is crucial even before pregnancy -- and how to get enough

If you're going to the store for an ovulation predictor kit, add orange juice, beans, liver and broccoli to your shopping list. These foods are natural sources of folate, an important B vitamin for your pregnancy diet that prevents birth defects. Don't like liver and broccoli? Fortunately, vitamin B is available in pill form.

Where to Get Folic Acid

In fact, most multivitamins contain folic acid, the synthetic form of folate. Since the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved a plan to add folic acid to food in 1998, it can be found in many cereals, breads and grains. Other natural sources of folate include:

- Spinach

- Peanuts

- Asparagus

- Peas

- Lentils

- Brussels sprouts

Since most women can't get enough of these foods in their pregnancy diet for optimal folate benefits, the March of Dimes and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommend that women of childbearing age take a daily supplement containing 400 micrograms of folic acid.

When to Take Folic Acid

According to Dr. Donald R. Mattison, former medical director for the March of Dimes, women should make a concerted effort to start their pregnancy diet by increasing their folic acid intake at least a month before attempting to become pregnant. Timing is key, because folic acid can prevent certain birth defects within the first four weeks after conception. "That's often a time before the couple has even recognized that they are pregnant," says Mattison.

Folic acid helps prevent neural tube defects, which cause malformations of the brain and spinal cord and can lead to conditions like spina bifida (which causes paralysis and poor bowel function). Folic acid also may prevent heart defects and Down syndrome.

Once you are pregnant, your doctor will likely encourage you to increase your intake of folic acid, but check with your doctor before you decide to up your dose on your own. Doubling up on a multivitamin could be dangerous, cautions obstetrician Dr. Charles Lockwood.

Why Stick With Folic Acid?

Even after you bring your new baby home from the hospital, it's a good idea to continue taking folic acid daily, experts say, because half of all pregnancies are unplanned. "It's simple to do," says Mattison. "And well worth it."


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Women's Health: Why You Need More Folic Acid in Your Pregnancy Diet