Folic Acid: Why it’s so important

supplemental folic acidIf you’re pregnant, or trying to get pregnant, one of the most important things you can be taking for your baby is Folic Acid.  It is recommended that women who are trying to get pregnant should start taking 400mcg of Folic Acid at least 1 month before getting pregnant.  Because of the role that folic acid plays in the production of new, healthy cells it’s important that you start taking folic acid right away if you suspect you may be pregnant.

According to, “Folic acid reduces the risk for birth defects of a baby’s brain and spine — spina bifida and anencephaly — by 50% to 70%:” These birth defects usually develop during the first month of pregnancy – before you may even realize you are pregnant, which is why it’s important to start taking folic acid as early as possible before pregnancy occurs.

The Center for Disease Control says, “Anencephaly happens if the upper part of the neural tube does not close all the way.”  When this happens, the baby is born without parts of the brain, and generally the rest of the brain isn’t covered by bone or skin.  Unfortunately, “almost all babies born with anencephaly will die shortly after birth.”

Spina Bifida is another neural tube defect that can occur as a result of inadequate folic acid intake.  Spina Bifida happens in varying degrees of severity.  Myelomeningocele is the most severe form and is described by the Center for Disease Control saying, “a sac of fluid comes through an opening in the baby’s back. Part of the spinal cord and nerves are in this sac and are damaged.”  Meningocele is when a sac of fluid is coming out of the baby’s back, but it doesn’t contain the spinal cord and there is usually little to no nerve damage.  The mildest form of Spina Bifida is called Spina bifida occulta and consists of a small gap in the spine.  Unlike babies with anencephaly, “with the right care, most people affected by spina bifida will be able to grow up to lead full and productive lives.”

There are a lot of foods available that are fortified with folic acid, in addition to a number of <a href=””>folic acid supplements</a> available on the market.  Check the label on your multivitamin or prenatal and make sure it contains at least 400mcg of folic acid (or folate.)  While these birth defects may sound really scary, the good news is folic acid can help protect your baby.