Folic Acid: What Women Need to Know

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?

To help give you and your baby a healthy start, the ACCESS Maternal Child Health team is here explain the benefits of folic acid.

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 man-made form of folate used in supplements and fortified foods such as rice, pasta, bread, and some breakfast cereals.

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 400 mcg of folic acid every day. Prenatal vitamins do not require a prescription and can be found over-the-counter in most drug stores.

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

Folic Acid Recap

Taking prenatal vitamins with folic acid helps support the important growth and development 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, PhD, M.S.W., ACCESS Maternal and Child Health Project Director. “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.”

Additional Resources

How We Can Help

ACCESS’ Maternal Child Health services, which includes its ACCESS Westside Healthy Start program, is ready to help and can connect you with the right resources. ACCESS provides services for pregnant and postpartum women including breastfeeding education, breastfeeding support, and follow-up services. If you are facing any challenges, or simply have questions, our care team is here to help.

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Updated January 26, 2023