The Importance of Folic Acid for Pregnancy - Baby Chick
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The Importance of Folic Acid for Pregnancy

Learn about folic acid, why taking folic acid for pregnancy is vital, and the differences between folate vs. folic acid.

Updated May 23, 2024

by Jamie Adams

Registered dietitian and Certified Prenatal Yoga Instructor, MS, LDN

Are you trying to conceive, or did you find out you are pregnant? Folic acid is one nutrient you likely have heard of and for good reason. Taking folic acid for pregnancy is especially crucial because it helps us develop and maintain cells. Even before you know you are pregnant, your baby is already developing its brain and nervous system, and folate, or folic acid, plays an essential role. Understanding the differences between folate vs. folic acid can help you get the most out of this vitamin.1

The debate about folate vs. folic acid during pregnancy has become heated over the past few years. However, experts agree that folic acid, a B vitamin, is an essential nutrient before and during pregnancy. To ensure you get enough at the right time, we will explore the importance of folic acid for pregnancy, its benefits, recommended dosage, and sources to ensure a healthy journey for you and your baby.1

What Is Folic Acid?

Folic acid, or folate or vitamin B9, is a water-soluble vitamin essential for various bodily functions. It is vital during pregnancy as it aids in the production and maintenance of new cells. Folic acid helps in DNA synthesis and red blood cell formation and plays a significant role in neural tube development during early pregnancy.1,2

Folate vs. Folic Acid

So, what’s the difference between folate and folic acid? Folic acid is the synthetic form of folate commonly found in supplements and used to fortify bread, cereals, and other food items. Folate is the natural form of the vitamin found in some foods.1

Why Is Folic Acid Important During Pregnancy?

Folic acid plays a crucial role in various bodily functions that support both mom and baby before and during pregnancy. The benefits of folic acid include the following:

1. Prevention of Neural Tube Defects

Neural tube defects (NTDs) are severe birth defects that affect a baby’s brain, spine, or spinal cord development. Folic acid has been found to significantly reduce the risk of NTDs when taken before conception and during early pregnancy.5,6

2. Support for Fetal Development

In addition to preventing neural tube defects, folic acid supports overall fetal development. Adequate folic acid intake contributes to the growth and development of a baby’s brain, organs, and tissues. It is particularly essential during the first trimester when major organ systems are forming. Increased folic acid intake may also help prevent oral and facial birth defects, including cleft palate.7,8

3. Maternal Health Benefits

Folic acid doesn’t only benefit the baby during pregnancy; it also plays a vital role in the mother’s overall health. Folic acid plays a crucial role in red blood cell formation, and a folate deficiency may lead to anemia. Consuming adequate amounts of folic acid before and during pregnancy reduces the risk of anemia. Folate deficiency anemia can lead to fatigue, weakness, and other complications during pregnancy. Additionally, research suggests that folic acid supplementation may help reduce the risk of preeclampsia, a pregnancy complication characterized by high blood pressure.3,4

How Much Folic Acid Should You Take For Pregnancy?

Experts recommend pregnant women consume 600 mcg of folic acid daily. Additionally, given that about half of pregnancies are unplanned, and major birth defects occur very early in pregnancy, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends all women of childbearing age supplement their diets with 400 mcg daily.1,2

Note: Before adding any supplement to your routine, discuss it with your healthcare provider to determine the proper dose and form.

Sources of Folate and Folic Acid

Meeting the recommended folic acid intake during pregnancy can be achieved through dietary sources and supplements. Folate-rich food sources include:2

  • Beef liver
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Dark leafy greens
  • Oranges
  • Avocados
  • Nuts and nut butters

Foods fortified with folic acid include:2

  • Fortified breads, flour, pasta, and rice
  • Fortified breakfast cereals
  • Fortified corn masa flour

In addition to food sources, folic acid is also available in supplement form and can help ensure adequate intake during pregnancy. Folic acid is in most prenatal supplements. However, it is essential to consult your healthcare provider before starting any supplementation to determine the appropriate dosage and form and ensure it aligns with your needs.

Folic acid is an essential nutrient recommended for all women of childbearing age to help prevent neural tube defects. It benefits babies and moms, too. By incorporating folate-rich food sources into your diet and considering supplementation, you can ensure you and your baby get the necessary amounts of folic acid for a healthy pregnancy journey. Remember, it’s always best to consult your healthcare provider for personalized advice and guidance throughout pregnancy.

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Jamie Adams
Jamie Adams Registered dietitian and Certified Prenatal Yoga Instructor, MS, LDN
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Jamie Adams is a mom, Registered Dietitian Nutritionist, and Prenatal Yoga Teacher who specializes in women's health, infant, and pediatric nutrition. She holds a master's degree in clinical nutrition from… Read more

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