You’re pregnant or planning to become pregnant and you want your baby to be as healthy as possible. Eating nutritious and vitamin-fortified foods during your pregnancy will help ensure your baby gets the nutrients it needs to grow strong and develop properly.
Folic acid (also known as folate or vitamin B9) is an important vitamin because it helps prevent major birth defects of the spine, such as spina bifida. When a baby has spina bifida, its back bones (the vertebrae) do not form properly around the spinal cord. Folic acid also helps prevent birth defects such as anencephaly in your baby’s brain. Anencephaly is fatal in a newborn because most of its brain is missing. Folic acid helps prevent these birth defects by helping your body make the extra red blood cells it needs for your baby during your pregnancy.
If you plan to get pregnant or are already pregnant, you’ll need four to eight milligrams of folic acid every day, especially during the first three months of your pregnancy, which is when your baby’s spine and brain begin to form.
Excellent sources of folic acid include vitamin-fortified breads and cereals, pasta, flour, rice, black beans, bananas, oranges, avocados, bananas, strawberries, spinach, romaine lettuce, asparagus, broccoli, peas, Brussels sprouts, yogurt, and tuna. Note that corn flour and tortillas are often not fortified with folic acid, so be sure to supplement your diet with folic acid if you eat a Mexican food-based diet.
If you’re planning to become pregnant or already pregnant, here’s how to ensure you get your daily quota of folic acid:
- Eat one cup of a fortified breakfast cereal with milk and drink a glass of OJ for breakfast, and you’ll get 50% of your daily folic acid requirement.
- Take a prenatal or multivitamin pill.
- Avoid drinking green tea because it inhibits your body’s absorption of folic acid.
- Avoid smoking and secondhand smoke because they decrease folic acid levels in your body.
- If you’re taking prescription medications, check with your doctor to see if your medications hinder folic acid from working to prevent birth defects.
- If you’re in the military, it’s easy to have poor dietary habits, especially when you’re trying to meet the military’s body-weight standards, so you’ll need to make an extra special effort to get enough folic acid.
And there you have it — making sure your body gets four to eight milligrams of folic acid every day is a great way to help your baby’s brain and spine be healthy from conception through birth!
Folic Acid fact sheet, by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office on Women’s Health:
Your Pregnancy & Birth, by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists
Your Pregnancy Week by Week, by Glade B. Curtis, M.D., M.P.H. and Judith Schuler, M.S.