Women who are planning a pregnancy should begin taking a multi-vitamin with folic acid at least three months before getting pregnant. However, since about half of all pregnancies are unplanned it is important that all women of childbearing years take a multi-vitamin with folic acid every day whether they plan to get pregnant or not. Folic acid, folacin, or folate is one of the most important parts of the prenatal vitamin.

Spina Bifida and Anencephaly

Early in pregnancy, the cells are flat and then roll up together like a tube. The spinal cord closes by the 28th day, before many women know that they are pregnant. Folic acid helps the spinal cord close. If the spinal cord doesn’t close all the way, it’s called spina bifida which can cause problems including paralysis below the spinal opening affecting the bladder, bowel, and legs.

How much Folic Acid do I need?

The good news is that multivitamins usually have the needed amount of folic acid, 400 micrograms a day. Folic acid is so important that some foods are fortified with 100% of the daily value of folic acid also, including some cereals from Raisin Brain to Cap’n Crunch, as well as several grains and pastas. You should also eat foods rich in folate including green leafy vegetables, orange juice, and beans.

More reasons to eat healthy before pregnancy

Beyond folic acid, good nutrition before and during the pregnancy helps mom and the developing fetus. Added iron is important as mom and the fetus produce new blood cells.

Eating healthy, with plenty of fruits and veggies, is part of helping mom stay healthy during the pregnancy. Uncontrolled diabetes is one of the largest causes of birth defects, so preventing gestational diabetes and controlling existing diabetes are important for the developing fetus also.