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Folic Acid Decreases Risk of Birth Defects –Are you Getting Enough?

January is National Birth Defects Prevention Monthlink opens in a new window, and a great time to discuss the importance of getting enough folic acid. If you or someone you know is pregnant, we have an important message for you: Make sure you are getting enough folic acid to prevent neural tube defects in your baby! Neural tube defects are the cause of spina bifida and anencephaly, two major birth defects of the brain and spine.  Up to 70% of neural tube defects could be prevented if pregnant women got enough folic acid.1 Hispanic women in the United States have higher rates of these birth defects than non-Hispanic women in the United States. 1

The role of folic acid.

This B vitamin helps the body make new cells of all kinds. And while folic acid is important for all women and men throughout life, the need for folic acid support is critical to healthy development of the fetus. Every bodily cell benefits from folic acid. By helping to produce red blood cells that transport oxygen from the lungs to the rest of the body, folic acid plays a role in the healthy functioning of all body parts. According to the CDC, up to 3000 pregnancies per year are affected by  neural tube defects.2 Folic acid supplementation can help reduce this number.2 In addition, the March of Dimes reports some studies also show it may help prevent heart defects, as well as cleft lip and palate.3

How much you need

All women should shoot for the recommended daily amount of 400 micrograms, or 600 micrograms beginning one month before and throughout preganancy.3 In some cases, certain women need more, so be sure to talk with your doctor to determine the right amount for you.

How to get folic acid

  • Daily multivitamin: Nearly all multivitamins contain folic acid, especially those formulated for women. Before you buy, do a quick label check to ensure it contains the recommended 400 micrograms.
  • Diet: Many breakfast cereals are fortified with folic acid, so choosing it for your morning meal is another great way to get your daily dose. You can also find folic acid in other foods, like cornmeal, flour, pasta and white rice. Confirm the amount by checking the package for the “100% of daily value” indicator on the supplement facts of the nutrition label. Fruits and vegetables can be a good source as well. Find naturally occurring folic acid, called folate, in beans, leafy green veggies, asparagus, broccoli, peanuts and citrus.
  • Prenatal vitamins. When you’re pregnant, it’s important to take a prenatal vitamin specifically formulated for your needs. Most contain 600 micrograms of folic acid to ensure both you and your baby get the right amount. Discuss the best one for you with your doctor.

1 “National Birth Defects Prevention Network.” Folic Acid Awareness Week - National Birth Defects Prevention Network, opens in a new window
2 “Folic Acid.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 15 Jan. 2015, opens in a new window
3 “Folic acid.” March of Dimes, opens in a new window
4 “Recipes.” Folic Acid Everyday, opens in a new window