Folic acid is one of the many essential nutrients that our bodies need. This nutrient helps protect your baby from spinal cord and brain problems including spina bifida. This condition can happen several weeks of your pregnancy but many women are not aware that they are pregnant at this point in the gestation period. Because of this, it is important to begin taking folic acid right away when you start trying to conceive. The important question then becomes how much folic acid you need to take when trying to get pregnant.
How Much Folic Acid Should You Take While Trying to Get Pregnant?
Women who are at childbearing age should get at least 0.4 milligrams (400 micrograms) of folic acid a day but when you are pregnant the recommended amount increases to between 0.6 and 0.8 milligrams. In fact, if you regularly take folic acid for a month or more before you conceive, you can reduce your child’s risk of developing neural tube defects by 70% according to the CDC.
If your family history includes neural-tube defects, then you should take more folic acid during pregnancy; around 4 mg a day. You should always discuss your ideal folic acid intake with your doctor before taking the vitamin.
It is easy to find folic acid supplements or multivitamins (prenatal and regular ones) at your local drugstore. Anytime you take a multivitamin, however, it is important to check the amount of vitamin A to make sure it doesn’t exceed 2,565 IU (or 770 mcg) as this can lead to certain birth defects.
When taking folic acid, it is important to remember that it is water-soluble so your body can flush out extra. Despite this, if you take too much folic acid it can mask a deficiency of B-12 and this is especially common for vegetarians.
Take a look at the following video to see just some of the benefits of taking folic acid while you are trying to conceive:
In Which Cases Do You Need to Take Extra Folic Acid?
Most of the time if your baby has a higher chance than normal of being born with a neural tube defect (known as NTD) then your doctor will recommend you take more folic acid than the normal recommended dose. This dose will usually be 5 mg and only available by prescription.
The following list shows some situations in which your doctor may recommend you take extra 5 mg of folic acid a day:
- You have celiac disease
- You take medicine for epilepsy
- You have thalassemia
- You have sickle cell disease
- You have a BMI of more than 30
- You have diabetes
- You have had a baby born with an NTD
In addition to taking a folic acid supplement, you can naturally increase the amount of folic acid you consume daily. Some good sources of folate include:
- Fortified breakfast cereals
- Yeast extract
- Whole grains such as brown rice
- Fruits such as tomatoes, avocados and oranges (and orange juice)
- Baked beans and legumes like chick peas
- Green leafy vegetables like cabbage, spinach and sprouts
Because folic acid is water soluble, it can be destroyed by the cooking process. Because of this, you should always stir-fry, steam or microwave your vegetables instead of boiling them so they retain their folate.
Watch a video for dietary sources of folic acid:
Why Do You Need Folic Acid Before and During Pregnancy?
When you are pregnant or trying to conceive, folic acid is a very important vitamin for many reasons. Folic acid is also known as folate or vitamin B9 and is necessary to prevent a certain type of anemia by producing normal red blood cells. In addition, folic acid is required for the DNA to be produced and repaired. Because of the role it plays in DNA, sufficient folic acid is especially important while pregnant as it can help with the rapid cell growth for both your developing baby and the placenta.
Consuming folic acid can help prevent your baby from having neural tube defects. These can include serious birth defects such as spina bifida and other problems with the spinal cord as well as anencephaly and other problems with the brain. Because neural tube defects will develop at a very early stage of pregnancy, many women do not know they are pregnant when the defect develops. Because of this, around 3,000 pregnancies each year in the United States are affected by neural tube defects.
The CDC recommends that you start taking a daily dose of folate a month or more before you conceive and continue taking it throughout the first trimester. By doing this, you can help reduce your baby’s risk of developing neural tube defects by between 50 and 70 percent.
There has also been research which shows that taking folic acid can also reduce your baby’s risk of certain heart defects, cleft palate and cleft lip. In addition, other studies have shown that if you take a multivitamin that contains folic acid, you may be able to reduce the risk of preeclampsia which is a complex disorder which can affect both you and your baby.