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Folic acid

  • Taking folic acid may help prevent certain birth defects.
  • Folic acid only works if a woman takes it before and during early pregnancy.
  • Take a multivitamin each day that has 400 micrograms of folic acid.
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Folic acid for a healthy pregnancy and baby

Folic acid is a B vitamin. If women of childbearing age take 400 micrograms of folic acid every day before and during early pregnancy, it may help reduce their baby’s risk for birth defects of the brain and spine called neural tube defects (NTDs).

Folic acid works only if taken before getting pregnant and during the first few weeks of pregnancy, often before a woman may know she’s pregnant. Because nearly half of all pregnancies in the United States are unplanned, it's important that all women (even if they're not trying to get pregnant) get the right amount of folic acid.

The best way to get enough folic acid is to take a multivitamin with 400 micrograms of folic acid before pregnancy and eat healthy foods. Most multivitamins have this amount, but check the label to be sure. You also can get folic acid from food, but it may be hard to get the amount you need from food alone.

Once you’re pregnant, take a prenatal vitamin with at least 600 micrograms of folic acid. Most healthy women don’t need more than 1,000 micrograms of folic acid per day. But if you’re at risk of having a baby with a birth defect, your health care provider may want you to take more folic acid.

Good choices

  • Orange juice
  • Fortified cereals
  • Grapefruit
  • Broccoli
  • Spinach
  • Asparagus
  • Lentils
  • Peas

Most common questions

Can I get folic acid from food?

Yes, but it's sometimes hard to get enough folic acid each day just from food. Foods that contain folate (the natural form of folic acid) include lentils, spinach, black beans, peanuts, orange juice, romaine lettuce and broccoli. You have to eat a lot of these foods to get the right amount of folic acid. Fortified grains, like bread, pasta and breakfast cereal, have more folic acid. "Fortified" means that folic acid has been added to the food. Check the product label to see how much folic acid each serving contains. The simplest way to get enough folic acid every day is to take a multivitamin or a prenatal vitamin. If you're not pregnant yet, take a multivitamin with 400 micrograms (mcg) of folic acid in it each day. If you’re pregnant, take a prenatal vitamin with at least 600 mcg of folic acid in it each day.

What if I didn't take folic acid before pregnancy?

If you don't take folic acid before getting pregnant (conception), it doesn't necessarily mean that your baby will be born with birth defects. However, it's true that folic acid does help to prevent certain birth defects. But it only works if it's taken before getting pregnant and at the beginning of the pregnancy, often before a woman may even know she's pregnant.

Since nearly half of all pregnancies in the United States are unplanned, it's important that all women of childbearing age (even if they're not trying to get pregnant) get at least 400 micrograms of folic acid every day. Take a multivitamin with folic acid before pregnancy. During pregnancy, switch to a prenatal vitamin, which should have 600 micrograms of folic acid.

What's the best way to get the right amount of folic acid?

Before pregnancy, take a multivitamin that contains 400 micrograms (mcg) of folic acid every day. If women of childbearing age take 400 micrograms of folic acid every day before and during early pregnancy, it may help reduce their baby’s risk for birth defects of the brain and spin called neural tube defects (NTDs). During pregnancy, you need at least 600 mcg of folic acid very day. Your prenatal vitamin should have this amount. Talk to your provider about taking a prenatal vitamin.


Last reviewed November 2012


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