Folic acid and pregnancy
Folic acid is a B vitamin that the body uses to make new cells. Everyone needs folic acid, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention note that folic acid is especially vital for women before and during pregnancy. That’s because folic acid can help prevent major birth defects like anencephaly and spina bifida.
Anencephaly is a serious condition in which a baby is born without parts of the brain or skull, while spina bifida is a condition that affects the spine. Spina bifida can contribute to potentially severe physical and intellectual disabilities. The CDC notes how important it is that women of reproductive age, even those who are not attempting to get pregnant, get 400 micrograms of folic acid each day. That’s because major birth defects of the baby’s brain or spine occur very early in pregnancy, typically between three and four weeks after conception.
Many women are not even aware they are pregnant at that point, and that’s especially so for women who are not trying to become pregnant. By ensuring they include enough folic acid in their diets, women of reproductive age can greatly reduce the risk of giving birth to a child with major birth defects.
According to the CDC, most vitamins sold in the United States include 400 micrograms of folic acid, though it’s still best to read product labels and/or speak with a physician prior to purchasing a bottle of vitamins. In addition, fortified foods, including some breads and breakfast cereals, contain the recommended daily amount of folic acid.