Folic Acid Helps Prevent Serious Birth Defects of the Brain and Spine

Learn how to get healthy before and during pregnancy to increase your chance of having a healthy baby. Plan ahead by getting 400 micrograms (mcg) of folic acid each day.

woman reading a supplement bottle's label

Folic acid is an important part of planning for a healthy pregnancy. CDC urges all women of reproductive age to consume 400 mcg of folic acid each day, in addition to consuming food with folate from a varied diet, to help prevent some major birth defects of the baby’s brain and spine (known as neural tube defects). The two most common types of neural tube defects are anencephaly and spina bifida. Anencephaly is a serious birth defect in which parts of a baby’s brain and skull do not form correctly. Almost all babies born with anencephaly will die shortly after birth. Spina bifida is a serious birth defect in which a baby’s spine does not develop correctly and can result in some severe physical disabilities. All women who are capable of becoming pregnant should get 400 mcg of folic acid every day.

Do I need folic acid?

Yes! Every woman should get 400 mcg of folic acid each day, in addition to eating food with folate from a varied diet, even if she does not plan on becoming pregnant. Our bodies use folic acid to make new cells like skin, hair, and nails. Start a healthy habit today by getting 400 mcg of folic acid every day.

Why should I start taking folic acid now?

African american woman eating cereals, raspberries and blueberries with a happy face standing and smiling with a confident smile showing teeth

All women need 400 micrograms (mcg) of folic acid every day.

Neural tube defects (like anencephaly and spina bifida) happen in the first few weeks of pregnancy, often before a woman finds out she’s pregnant. Also, almost half of all pregnancies in the United States are unintended. This is why it is important for all women who could become pregnant get 400 mcg of folic acid every day, even if they are not actively planning a pregnancy. By the time a woman realizes she is pregnant, it might be too late to prevent these birth defects. Plan ahead! Starting today is the best option.

How do I get folic acid?

An easy way to be sure you’re getting enough folic acid is to take a daily vitamin with 400 mcg of folic acid in it (most vitamins contain the recommended daily amount of 400 mcg of folic acid women need). If taking a vitamin upsets your stomach, try taking it with food or just before bed. If you have trouble taking pills, try a chewable vitamin. Also, be sure to take it with a full glass of water.

Picture of a tortilla for folic acid

Folic acid is added to foods such as enriched breads, pastas, rice, cereals, and corn masa flour. Corn masa flour is used to make foods such as corn chips, tortillas, tamales, and taco shells. Check the nutrition label on food packaging to see if it contains folic acid.

You can also eat a diet rich in folate. Folate can be found in foods like beans, peas, and lentils; oranges and orange juice; asparagus and broccoli; and dark leafy green vegetables such as spinach and mustard greens. However, it can be hard for most women to get the recommended daily amount of folate through food alone.1

Taking a supplement with more than 400 mcg of folic acid each day is not necessarily better for preventing a neural tube defect. Only do so if a doctor recommends taking more per day due to other health conditions.

Resources for Healthcare Professionals

CDC has English- and Spanish-language folic acid educational materials for healthcare professionals that can be downloaded or ordered for free. Visit our website today to get your educational materials!

More Information

References

  1. National Institutes of Health. (2018 October 4 Published). Folate. Retrieved from Folate Fact Sheet for Health Professionalsexternal icon Accessed 26 November, 2018.