Folic Acid and Pregnancy

Folic acid, also known as vitamin B9 occurs naturally in folates. Folic acid is important for a variety of things during pregnancy. Most authorities including the March of Dimes and ACOG recommend that all women at childbearing age take a folic acid supplement or a multivitamin that contains folic acid every day. How much folic acid do you need during pregnancy? How can you get this nutrient from natural diet?

Why do You Need Folic Acid for Pregnancy?

It helps to prevent neural tube defects in the spinal cord which occur early on in development, often before a mother realizes she is pregnant. Those that take the recommended dose of folic acid starting a month before they conceive and through the first trimester reduce their risk of this condition by 50-70 percent. Research also suggests that taking folic acid reduces the risk of other birth defects such as heart defects, cleft palate or cleft lip.

Your body requires folic acid to prevent some types of anemia and to help produce, repair and encourage the function of DNA. This helps to maintain the placenta and the development of your baby. Some research also suggests that taking folic acid reduces your risk of preeclampsia.

How Much Folic Acid do You Need for Pregnancy?

You are planning on becoming pregnant or are pregnant. You will need 400-800 micrograms of folic acid in the early stages of pregnancy, even before you know you are pregnant. A woman who is expecting will need to continue taking folic acid throughout her pregnancy and discuss their folic acid needs with their medical team. Some doctors will prescribe prenatal vitamins with high doses of folic acid.

Those that are breastfeeding will also need around 500 micrograms of folic acid daily. Many doctors recommend that breastfeeding women continue to take prenatal vitamins to get enough folic acid, particularly if they are planning to try to get pregnant again.

Important notes: The signs of folic acid deficiency are subtle but may include weakness, weight loss, loss of appetite, diarrhea, irritability, headaches, sore tongue or heart palpitations. Those with a mild deficiency may not notice these symptoms, but will not be getting enough folic acid to allow for healthy embryonic development in their child.

When do You Need Extra Folic Acid for Pregnancy?

Those that are obese may have an increased risk of neural tube defects, though the cause of this is still unknown. Those that are overweight should talk to their doctor before they conceive to determine if they will require a higher dose of folic acid.

Those that previously conceived a baby with a neural tube defect should make sure their medical practitioner is aware before they try to get pregnant again. Without intervention there is a 2-5 percent chance of developing this condition in your new pregnancy. Taking large doses of folic acid can help to reduce this risk. Your doctor can recommend a specific dose based on your medical condition.

Those with diabetes or using anti-seizure medications are also at a higher risk for neural tube defects. See your doctor a month before you try to conceive and determine how your condition should be monitored and what levels of folic acid are appropriate for you to take.

What Are the Food Sources of Folic Acid?

These are foods such as oranges, dark leafy greens, whole grains, yeast, pulses or beef extract. Some breakfast cereals, margarines or breads have been fortified with folic acid as well. This will be marked on the packaging.

You should not consider these foods a substitute for folic acid doses, but a complement to the supplement you are using. Your body will only absorb some of the natural folic acid you consume, but will absorb all of the synthetic version. In some cases folic acid can be damaged during the cooking process which will limit the dose you take in from dietary sources.

Dark leafy greens


Dark leafy greens including spinach, turnip greens, kale, collard greens or romaine lettuce are high in folic acid. One large plate of these greens can provide you with most of your daily requirement.



Asparagus is a very nutrient-dense food that contains some of the highest levels of folic acid in the vegetable category. A cup of boiled asparagus contains 262 micrograms of folic acid, or 65 percent of your daily requirement. This food also contains vitamins A, C, K and manganese.



Broccoli is an excellent detox food which also contains high amounts of folic acid, nearly 24 percent of your daily requirement per cup. There are a wide variety of important nutrients in broccoli, but you will bet the highest benefit of this food if you eat it steamed or raw.

Citrus Fruits


Citrus fruits contain some of the highest amounts of folic acids in the fruit family. Oranges in particular contain a high amount of folic acid with around 50 micrograms per fruit and even more in a glass of juice. Grapes, papaya, bananas, strawberries and cantaloupe are also high in folic acid.

Beans, Peas and Lentils


Peas and beans are very high in folic acid. Lima beans, pinto beans, green peas, kidney beans and black eyed peas in particular are good sources of this nutrient. Any type of lentil will also provide you with your daily recommended value of folic acid.



The butter pear, also known as an avocado can contain up to 90 micrograms of folate in every cup, around 22 percent of your daily requirement. This fruit also contains vitamin K, fatty acid and dietary fiber which is helpful during pregnancy.



Okra is very nutrient rich, providing a high dose of vitamins and minerals while helping to cleanse the digestive system to prevent toxic build-up. This food also contains around 37 micrograms of folic acid in every cup.

Watch a video for more information on benefits of folic acid for pregnancy and food sources for folic acid:

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