If you're expecting or planning to be, you can prevent serious birth defects of the spine and brain by getting enough folic acid (vitamin B9) in your diet.
Why It's Important
As soon as your baby begins to develop at the start of pregnancy, folic acid ensures that the cells that will become its brain and spinal cord are formed properly. This helps prevent your baby from being born with serious conditions like spina bifida or anencephaly, in which the brain or spinal cord is malformed. These conditions can be difficult or impossible to treat.
When You Need It
Any woman who may become pregnant should be taking a vitamin or multivitamin with 400mcg of folic acid, even before becoming pregnant. This ensures that your body has the necessary folic acid for your baby as soon as you become pregnant — even before you may know it.
The first three months of pregnancy are the most important for your baby's developing nervous system and brain. Continue taking folic acid supplements at least through the third month of your pregnancy.
Ways to Get Folic Acid
A multivitamin that inlcudes 400mcg of folic acid. Look for multivitamins specifically designed for women.
A folic acid (B9) supplement. You can a simple supplement each day that just contains folic acid. Make sure it provides 400mcg each day. (More is not necessary unless you have a child born with spinal cord defects before.)
Folate-rich foods. Foods like dark, leafy green vegetables (spinach, turnip greens, broccoli) and beans are high in folate, which your body turns into folic acid. Keeping these in your diet helps ensure all-around nutrition and helps meet your minimum folic acid needs. A supplement is still advised, though, to make sure your folic acid intake is sufficient.
Foods fortified with folic acid. Certain grain-based foods like rice, bread and pasta are fortified with extra folic acid. Check the labels, and include these in your diet to help meet your folic acid requirements.