What is folic acid?
Folic acid is a B vitamin. Our bodies use it to make new cells. Everyone needs folic acid. But for women who can get pregnant, it is really important! If a woman has enough folic acid in her body before she is pregnant, it can help prevent major birth defects of her baby’s brain and spine. These birth defects are neural tube defects or NTDs. Women need to take folic acid every day, starting before they are pregnant to help prevent NTDs.
CDC and the U.S. Public Health Service urge every woman who could become pregnant to get 400 micrograms (400 mcg) of synthetic folic acid every day.
How much is enough? Look for 100% DV (Daily Value)
One easy way a woman can be sure she is getting enough folic acid is to take a vitamin that has folic acid in it every day. Folic acid pills and most multivitamins sold in the United States have 100% of the daily value (DV) of folic acid; check the label to be sure. Another way to get enough is to eat a serving of breakfast cereal every day that has been enriched with 100% of the daily value of folic acid. Not every cereal has this amount. Check the label on the side of the box, and look for one that has 100% next to folic acid.
When should a woman start taking folic acid?
These birth defects happen in the first few weeks of pregnancy, often before a woman finds out that she is pregnant. All women should get in the habit of taking folic acid daily even when they are not planning to get pregnant. For folic acid to help, a woman needs to take every day, starting before she becomes pregnant.