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Health Team

Take folic acid before pregnancy to reap full benefits for baby

Posted April 6

Eating foods rich in folic acid as well as taking supplements are key to preventing neural tube defects, like spina bifida, in pregnancy and the U.S. Preventive Services Force have reinforced the recommendation for young women prior to becoming pregnant.

Folate and folic acid are forms of a water soluble B-vitamin. They are found naturally in many foods, including leafy green vegetables.

Folic acid has been considered an essential supplement for pregnant women, but putting off taking the supplement until learning you’re pregnant might be too late to see a benefit.

“Often times, women find out that they’re pregnant well after that neural tube has closed already, which is about the fourth week after conception. So, if women don’t find out until they’re about six weeks and then start their vitamin, the benefit for the nervous system is already lost,” said Dr. Salena Zanotti with the Cleveland Clinic.

Zanotti said studies have long shown a link between folic acid and a reduced risk for neural tube defects- which are defects of the brain, spine or spinal cord- in infants.

Healthy women of reproductive age should be taking at least 400 to 800 micrograms of folic acid each day. Some women may need more, depending on their health history or whether they have already had a child with a neural tube defect.

Zanotti stresses starting supplements early.

“If you’re planning to become pregnant, obviously a healthy lifestyle is an important thing, but as far as folic acid, to start the supplement at least one to three months before,” she said.

Zanotti said most women can start taking a folic acid supplement on their own, but women considered at higher risk need to see a physician for a prescription strength dose.

Also key to a healthy pregnancy are a healthy diet, pregnancy-safe exercise and getting plenty of rest.

Zanotti also points out that women who eat a lot of organic foods especially need to take a folic acid supplement.

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