Folic acid is a crucial vitamin if you’re trying to get pregnant or are pregnant. Learn which foods have folic acid and why you should supplement it.
Folic acid is the synthetic form of vitamin B9 (folate). It’s important to take folic acid if you are trying to get pregnant or are pregnant because it helps prevent neural tube defects (NTDs).
NTDs are serious birth defects of the spinal cord and the brain, affecting approximately 3,000 pregnancies each year in the United States. You may have heard of spina bifida, a NTD of the spine.
Spina Bifida is the “most common permanently disfiguring birth defect in the United States” (Spina Bifida Association). Spina Bifida means “split spine” and occurs when a baby’s spinal column doesn’t completely close. While the exact cause is unknown, we do know that folic acid can help.
By taking folic acid before conception and during the first trimester, you can reduce your baby’s risk of NTDs by up to 70%.
Read on to learn more about the importance of folic acid, where you can find folic acid, if you need to supplement it and how much you need.
FOODS WITH FOLIC ACID
Remember, folic acid is the synthetic form of vitamin B9 (folate). Foods with high folate content are great to eat during your pregnancy, but they aren’t enough on their own.
Studies show that the cooking process can destroy folate. Additionally, the folate content of foods can decrease over time when the food is stored. That doesn’t mean eating these foods is a waste of time — they just shouldn’t be your only source. Good sources of folate include:
- Dark green vegetables
- Citrus fruits
- Dried beans and lentils
You can also find folic acid in fortified foods, like:
- Pasta and
Most of us don’t eat enough folic acid fortified foods or foods with naturally occurring folate to support a healthy pregnancy. It can be hard to know exactly how much you’re consuming, and fortified foods may lose folic acid as you prepare them.
So, what should you do? Aren’t supplements inferior to natural food sources? Not in the case of folic acid. Research shows that our bodies absorb folic acid from supplements more efficiently that naturally occurring folate.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR IN A SUPPLEMENT
If one prenatal vitamin costs $7.00 for a 45-day supply, and another is $16.00 for the same quantity, is the more expensive product superior? Not necessarily. We think you should buy a product you like, from a brand you trust. There are guidelines that you should follow, but generic brands are usually comparable to more expensive brand names.
Prenatal vitamins come in a single pill, two pills (taken together), chewable and gummy forms. They’re all good options, you just need to figure out what works for you. If you hate swallowing pills, a chewable or gummy may be a better option. Likewise, if you’re forgetting to take your prenatal vitamin, a chewable or gummy vitamin can make it easier to remember.
Even though gummy vitamins taste like candy, you should never take more than the recommended amount. Taking too many can be toxic. It’s also important to consider the fact that gummy vitamins have a higher sugar content than a pill or chewable vitamin. They are also not regulated by the FDA like other vitamins.
Ultimately, talking to your doctor is the best way to decide which type of prenatal vitamin is going to work for you. Regardless of the type of vitamin you take, you’ll want to make sure it contains the following nutrients:
- Folic Acid
- Vitamin B6
- Omega 3 Fatty Acids
Your prenatal vitamin may also contain Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Vitamin D, Copper and Zinc. When selecting your vitamin, we also recommend looking for an independent seal of approval, although this isn’t a necessity.
HOW MUCH DO I NEED?
Look for a prenatal vitamin that has 800 mcg of folic acid. Ideally, you’ll be getting small amounts from the foods listed above, too. There’s no need to take more than this, unless your family has a history of NTDs. In this case, your doctor may recommend you take more.
It’s important to understand the vitamin should be supporting a healthy, well-balanced diet, not substituting for one. It’s not healthy for mom or baby to eat a diet of highly-processed foods with low nutrient levels, relying on the vitamin for essential nutrients.
The vitamin is a supplement designed to support your in getting healthy levels of nutrients during pregnancy. It’s not designed to be the only source of nutrients.
If you feel stuck and are struggling to eat well during your pregnancy, or don’t know where to start, talk to your doctor or midwife. You can work together to take small steps to improve your overall nutrition, creating healthy eating habits that nourish you and baby.
A healthy diet during pregnancy should include lean meats, eggs, legumes, vegetables, fruits, whole grains, calcium-rich dairy and yes — the occasional treat! It’s much easier to maintain healthy eating habits long-term if you aren’t overly restrictive.
HOW LONG SHOULD I TAKE THE SUPPLEMENT?
Folic Acid is essential for all women. It’s completely okay to supplement it throughout your entire life, as it helps prevent anemia, keeps your DNA healthy and is essential for the production of normal red blood cells.
In regards to conception and pregnancy, a folic acid supplement is essential. But it’s also recommended to keep supplementing folic acid if you decide to breastfeed. Continuing to take a prenatal vitamin while you are breastfeeding helps ensure that you are getting adequate amounts of the vitamins that are essential to you and to baby.
Learning to establish a breastfeeding routine and getting comfortable with the process can be challenging at first. The last thing you want to worry about is your nutrition. Providing you still eat a balanced diet, the prenatal vitamin will continue to supplement your overall nutrition.
How Women’s Healthcare of Morgantown Can Help
We understand that navigating a healthy pregnancy can be confusing. You’re probably getting conflicting advice from family and friends, which only becomes more frustrating when you can’t find trustworthy online sources to reference.
At Women’s Healthcare of Morgantown, we seek to be more than just a healthcare provider. We want to be health educators, providing you with resources that you can trust. All of our blogs are written or approved by our doctors and midwives. And the same goes for our downloadable resources.
If you’re trying to conceive or are currently pregnant, give us a call to make an appointment, or download our Guide to Labor & Delivery below. We’d love to be your trusted partner on your exciting journey to motherhood.
Call today to make an appointment: 304-599-6353