Folic acid, or folate, is a B vitamin that is important for good health. When looking at food or multivitamin labels, you may see folate or folic acid listed.
Why is folic acid so important during pregnancy?
Folic acid helps build healthy blood and tissues for you and your baby during pregnancy. It’s very important because it helps your baby’s spine, brain and skull develop properly and helps create new red blood cells for both of you. Folic acid can help prevent neural tube defects such as spina bifida in babies before they are born.
Why do I need to take folic acid before I am pregnant?
Folic acid is most important to a baby’s development in the early weeks of pregnancy, even before most people know they are pregnant. Even if you are not planning to become pregnant, you need to take folic acid because many pregnancies are unplanned.
How can I get enough folic acid?
It is hard to get the amount of folic acid you need from food alone. To get enough folic acid:
- eat a variety of vegetables and fruits, protein foods and whole grain foods, and,
- take a multivitamin that contains 0.4 mg of folic acid every day.
Some people may need more than 0.4 mg of folic acid daily. This can include people with:
- previous pregnancy affected with a neural tube defect
- family history of neural tube defect
- diabetes (type 1 or 2)
- celiac disease
- liver disease
- kidney dialysis
- inflammatory bowel disease
- gastric bypass surgery
- alcohol overuse
- antiepileptic or other folate inhibiting drugs
Talk to your health care provider to see if you need a higher amount of folic acid. You should not take more than 1 mg of folic acid per day unless your doctor tells you to.
Read the label to find out the daily dose for your multivitamin. Taking more than the daily dose can cause health risks. Talk to a pharmacist if you have questions.
What foods have folic acid?
You can get folic acid from a variety of foods such as:
- dark green vegetables like peas, spinach, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts
- beans and lentils
- foods with folic acid added such as:
- ready-to eat cereals
- enriched pasta and cornmeal
Eating well during pregnancy is important, but you will not get enough folic acid to protect against neural tube defects with food alone. You still need to take a multivitamin with folic acid every day.
For more information about eating well during pregnancy, check out Canada’s Food Guide.
For more information about folic acid, check out Women need folic acid: Increase your chances of having a healthy baby.
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