Folic Acid: What Women Need to Know

January 8, 2018

If you’re pregnant or even planning to get pregnant, taking folic acid will help prevent serious birth defects in your baby. But what is folic acid? And how do you get it into your diet? As part of Folic Acid Awareness Week, ACCESS is shedding light on this essential supplement for women and babies.

What is folic acid?

To understand folic acid, let’s start with folate. Folate is a form of vitamin B that helps cells in your body grow and develop normally. Folic acid is the synthetic man-made form of folate. 

Folic acid: why it’s important

It wasn’t until the 1980s when researchers discovered that taking folic acid during pregnancy helped prevent brain and spine defects like spina bifida and anencephaly. Since then, it’s been considered an essential supplement for pregnant women. Because a lot of important brain growth happens in the first weeks before women know they’re pregnant, it’s recommended that all women of childbearing age (15-45) take folic acid, even if they don’t plan on becoming pregnant.

How do I get folic acid?

While folic acid has been added to many foods, such as cereal, bread, pasta and rice, it’s hard to get the recommended amount from food alone. That’s why women who are pregnant or planning to get pregnant should take a prenatal vitamin with 600 mcg of folic acid every day. You don’t need a prescription. Prenatal vitamins can be found over the counter in most drugstores. Women who aren’t planning to get pregnant should take a multivitamin with 400 mcg of folic acid daily.

Folate-rich foods

In addition to taking a prenatal vitamin with folic acid, women can also eat foods that naturally contain folate for an extra boost. These include:

  • Beans, like lentils, pinto beans and black beans
  • Leafy green vegetables, like spinach and lettuce
  • Asparagus 
  • Broccoli
  • Peanuts 
  • Citrus fruits, like oranges and grapefruit
  • 100% orange juice


Summing it up

Taking prenatal vitamins with folic acid helps important growth that occurs early on in pregnancy, so you can have a healthy baby. “ACCESS Maternal and Child Health Community Health Specialists work closely with reproductive health patients to provide education and awareness on the benefits of proper nutrition and taking a multivitamin,” said Timika Anderson Reeves, M.S.W., ACCESS Maternal and Child Health Program Manager, Partnership & Outreach. “Additionally, these specialists educate women on the importance of consuming a daily dose of folic acid while pregnant or planning to become pregnant, as it can prevent spinal and brain congenital disabilities.”