Is Folic Acid Important for Pregnancy?

Medically reviewed by | By

Update Date 20/11/2020 . 3 mins read
Share now

In the course of your pregnancy, you’ve probably already heard your doctor talk about folate or folic acid. What exactly are these nutrients? Is folic acid really important for pregnancy? Find out here.

Folate and folic acid: What’s the difference?

Folate is any type of vitamin B9, which is naturally found in foods like leafy greens. Folic acid, on the other hand, does not occur naturally. In other words, it’s the man-made form of folate. Usually, it’s added in the process of “food fortification,” wherein we enrich food with vitamins and minerals.

While the two have differences, they serve the same purpose, which is to help us make new red blood cells, which carry oxygen around the body.

Early Signs of Pregnancy: Discharge and Other Bodily Changes

Is folic acid important for pregnancy?

Everyone needs folic acid or folate, especially pregnant women. Research has linked folic acid deficiency to the development of neural tube defects. These are conditions that pertain to the incomplete development of the baby’s brain and spinal cord. The three most common types of neural tube defects are:

Spina bifida. This condition happens when the spinal cord and the spinal column do not completely close.

Encephalocele. Is a type of neural tube defect wherein some of the baby’s brain tissues “protrude out” through an opening in the skull.

Anencephaly. This neural tube defect occurs when there is severe brain underdevelopment (the brain doesn’t completely form).

Doctors are still not sure why folic acid is so important in preventing neural tube defects. Most experts believe it’s because B9 plays a huge role in DNA development.

What if you are not pregnant? Do you still need enough folate or folic acid?

The answer is yes. Folic acid is important for red blood cell formation. Without enough B9 to help you make red blood cells, you might suffer from folate-deficiency anemia.

is folic acid important for pregnancy

What are some important reminders when taking folic acid?

While we mostly hear that folic acid is important for pregnancy, doctors emphasize that the adequate intake of vitamin B9 is essential for all women in their reproductive years. This is due to the fact that neural tube defects develop in the first few weeks of being pregnant, usually before a woman even knows that she has conceived. Furthermore, many pregnancies happen unintentionally for reasons due to missed calculations or malfunctioning birth control (e.g. broken condom).

How much folic acid do I need?

Now that we understand why folic acid is important for pregnancy, it’s time to ask: How much folic acid do we need?

According to the World Health Organization, the recommended daily intake for folic acid is 400 micrograms. That could increase depending on your situation. For instance, the doctor may advise a daily intake of at least 4,000 micrograms if you or your partner:

  • Had a baby with a neural tube defect before and want to get pregnant again
  • Know about a family member who had spina bifida
  • Have spina bifida and want to get pregnant

If you have diabetes or are taking medications for an epileptic condition, talk to your doctor about the proper folate dosage for you.

Where can I get folic acid?

There are 3 ways to ensure that you’re getting enough folate or folic acid: add folate-rich food to your diet, eat food fortified with folic acid, and take a supplement with folic acid in it.

Add folate-rich food to your diet

To get adequate amounts of folate or folic acid before and during pregnancy, try these folate-rich foods:

Eat food fortified with folic acid

The most common enriched foods with folic acid are:

  • White rice
  • Pasta
  • Bread
  • Breakfast cereals

When choosing fortified foods, be sure to look for those that have 100% of the daily value of folic acid.

Take supplements

Since folic acid is important for pregnancy, you can also consider taking a multivitamin supplement that has 400 micrograms (0.4 mg) of folic acid in it. To determine the best vitamin supplement for you, it’s best to talk to your doctor.

Can you take too much folic acid?

According to experts, yes, it’s possible to take too much folic acid before and during pregnancy. While you cannot get too much of the naturally occurring folate, you can take excessive amounts of folic acid from supplements and fortified foods. Too much folic acid can be a cause of concern since it can hide B12 deficiency symptoms, which often result in nerve damage.

What You Can’t Eat When You’re Pregnant

Key takeaways

Folic acid is important for pregnancy mainly because it can prevent the occurrence of neural tube defects like spina bifida, anencephaly, and encephalocele. However, even women who are not pregnant should get adequate amounts through a folate-rich diet or vitamin supplements.

Learn more about Being Pregnant here

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Was this article helpful for you ?
happy unhappy
Sources

You might also like

Meal and Snack Ideas for Gestational Diabetes

Are you looking for great meal and snack ideas for gestational diabetes? Here are some helpful tips plus a quick grocery shopping guide.

Medically reviewed by Hello Doctor Medical Panel
Written by Lorraine Bunag, R.N.
Mothercare 13/11/2020 . 3 mins read

Managing Gestational Diabetes Naturally

After being diagnosed with diabetes while you're pregnant, consider these tips can help in managing your gestational diabetes naturally.

Medically reviewed by Hello Doctor Medical Panel
Written by Lorraine Bunag, R.N.
Mothercare 03/11/2020 . 4 mins read

Geriatric Pregnancy Tips: Getting Pregnant in Your 40s

Is it okay to be pregnant later in life? Definitely! Here are some geriatric pregnancy tips for maintaining a healthy pregnancy in your 40s.

Medically reviewed by Hello Doctor Medical Panel
Written by Lorraine Bunag, R.N.
Planning 30/10/2020 . 4 mins read

What Are The Common 2nd Trimester Pregnancy Pains?

Pregnancy often comes with various pains and aches. What are the common 2nd trimester pregnancy pains you should know about?

Medically reviewed by Hello Doctor Medical Panel
Written by Lorraine Bunag, R.N.
Second Trimester 16/10/2020 . 4 mins read

Recommended for you

how to prevent vaginal tearing during pregnancy

How to Prevent Vaginal Tearing During Childbirth

Medically reviewed by Hello Doctor Medical Panel
Written by Lorraine Bunag, R.N.
Published on 19/11/2020 . 4 mins read
when to take a pregnancy test

When is the Right Time to Take a Pregnancy Test?

Medically reviewed by Hello Doctor Medical Panel
Written by Mayvilyn Cabigao
Published on 17/11/2020 . 5 mins read
uti in pregnancy prevention

UTI in Pregnancy: Causes, Treatment, and Prevention

Medically reviewed by Hello Doctor Medical Panel
Written by Lorraine Bunag, R.N.
Published on 13/11/2020 . 4 mins read
gestational diabetes complications for mother and baby

Gestational Diabetes: Complications for Mother and Baby

Medically reviewed by Hello Doctor Medical Panel
Written by Lorraine Bunag, R.N.
Published on 13/11/2020 . 4 mins read