The Importance of Folic Acid Before and During Pregnancy

Updated on December 8, 2017
Abeer Ahmad profile image

MBBS, MCPS (Family Medicine) Consultant Physician College Of Physicians & Surgeons Pakistan

How Can This Vitamin Help Me Have a Healthy Baby

Folate is a B vitamin, naturally found in food, that plays an important role in cell division and the synthesis of amino acids and nucleic acids like DNA. Folic acid is the synthetic compound used in dietary supplements and food fortification. One very important function of folic acid is that it helps prevent birth defects of the spinal cord and brain called neural tube defects.

Neural Tube Defect - A Folic Acid Deficiency Complication
Neural Tube Defect - A Folic Acid Deficiency Complication

When Should I Take It?

The critical time to ensure that you are getting enough folic acid is before you get pregnant. The benefit of folic acid occurs primarily four to six weeks prior to conception and through the first three months of pregnancy. To reduce the risk of having a baby with a neural tube defect, all women who could become pregnant should consume 0.6 mg of folic acid every day.

Enjoy Foods Rich in Folic Acid, Such As;

  • green leafy vegetables
  • legumes (dried peas & beans)
  • nuts and seeds
  • orange juice
  • whole grain breads & cereals

What About Supplements?

Although folic acid is found in vegetables, fruits, grain products, beans and lentils, it is difficult to get all you need from food. In order to get the required daily intake of 0.6 mg you should take a 0.4 mg folic acid supplement every day and eat foods rich in folic acid.

Folic acid is available as a single supplement or as part of a multi-vitamin preparation. It is recommended to take a multivitamin containing vitamin B12 as well as folic acid. Ask a dietitian, pharmacist or doctor for the best choice. It is not recommended to take doses higher than 1 mg of folic acid per day unless prescribed by your doctor.

If you have diabetes, obesity or epilepsy, you may be at higher risk of having a baby with a neural tube defect (NTD). See your doctor or health practitioner before planning your pregnancy. If you start taking a prenatal supplement you will be getting all the folic acid you need. So, you won’t need to take the other supplement as well. If you have already had a child with a NTD, your requirement for folic acid is higher for future pregnancies. Consult with your doctor

All women who could become pregnant should take a daily vitamin supplement containing 0.4 mg (400 micrograms) of folic acid as well as including folate-rich foo

Folic Acid Tablets
Folic Acid Tablets

Tasty Ways To Enjoy Folic Acid


  • 1 cup (250mL) lentils
  • 5 cups (1250mL) chicken broth
  • 2 cups (500mL) water
  • 1½ cups (375mL) potato, diced
  • 1½ cups (375mL) onion, chopped
  • 1 28 oz can (796mL) tomatoes, chopped
  • 2 medium carrots, grated
  • ½ tsp (2mL) basil, dried
  • 2 tbsp (25mL) flour
  • 2 tbsp (25mL) cold water salt & pepper to taste

Wash and drain lentils. In a saucepan, add lentils to chicken broth. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover and simmer 30 minutes. Add potato and onion. Simmer 20 minutes. Add tomatoes, carrot and basil. Simmer 10 minutes. Blend together salt and pepper, flour and water. Gradually add to soup while stirring, until thickened. Serves 6.


  • 1-2 tbsp (15-30 mL) lime juice
  • 2 tbsp (30mL) oil
  • 1 tsp (5 mL) sesame seeds
  • 1/2 tsp (2mL) lime peel, grated
  • 1/4 tsp (1mL) ginger
  • 3 cups (750 mL) torn spinach
  • 1 cup (250mL) sliced mushrooms
  • 1 cup (250mL orange, sectioned
  • 1/2 red onion, sliced rings salt & pepper to taste

In a jar with a tight fitting lid, combine lime juice, oil, sesame seeds, lime peel, ginger, salt and pepper. Shake well. Refrigerate until serving. In a large bowl, combine spinach, mushrooms, oranges and onion. Toss with the dressing.Serves 4.

Keep Folic Acid In Your Food

The way you prepare, store and cook food can greatly affect the amount of folic acid in your food.
To prevent the loss of folic acid from your food:

  • Store in tightly covered containers in the refrigerator.
  • Peel and chop vegetables and fruit just before cooking.
  • Cook or steam your food in small amounts of water for as short a time as possible.
  • Serve vegetables and fruit raw more often.
  • When stir-frying, use the highest heat so that vegetables start cooking right away.

Folic Acid Questionaire

Did you start taking Folic Acid regularly in early pregnancy ,kept taking it throughout pregnancy and still your baby suffered from a birth defect or abnormality at birth ?

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