If you are preparing for pregnancy or planning to become pregnant in the future, you may have heard that taking a prenatal vitamin containing folic acid (folate) is important. Read on to learn more about folic acid requirements for pregnancy.
What is Folic Acid?
Folic acid is the synthetic version of folate. The terms are often used interchangeably; just know that folate occurs in nature, while folic acid is synthetic (1). Folic acid is a B vitamin that helps our bodies make new cells and tissues. It is also responsible for producing new DNA molecules, forming red blood cells (preventing anemia), and working with vitamin B12 and vitamin C to break down, use, and create new proteins (1).
Why is Folic Acid Important for Pregnancy?
As you can see, folic acid is necessary for daily life, even when you’re not planning to become pregnant. However, when you are trying to conceive, folic acid is even more crucial. This is because folic acid helps to form the neural tube of the fetus during early development (2). Proper formation of the neural tube helps to prevent birth defects such as anencephaly and spina bifida (1). It is important to have a sufficient amount of folic acid in your diet prior to and during pregnancy, as these defects can develop very early on (within the first 21 days), before most women find out they are pregnant (1).
How Much Folic Acid Should I Take?
By now, you’re probably wondering what are the folic acid requirements for pregnancy? Health Canada recommends that all women of childbearing age consume 400 mcg of folic acid each day (2). During pregnancy it is recommended to increase your intake to 600 mcg per day (2). An easy way to ensure that you are consuming enough folic acid is to take a daily supplement with at least 400 mcg and eat a product fortified with folic acid, such as pasta.
What Are Some Sources of Folic Acid?
Folic acid can be found in a variety of foods and supplements. The easiest way to obtain 400 mcg per day is by taking a multivitamin or a prenatal vitamin (2). If you are unsure about what type of vitamin to take, a Registered Dietitian can help you to determine the best option for you. Additional sources of folic acid are found in enriched refined grain products such as cereal, pasta, white flour, and cornmeal (2). Lastly, folate naturally occurs in a variety of foods and can be found in legumes, broccoli, green peas, oranges, cantaloupe, eggs, beets, asparagus, and avocados (2).
The Bottom Line
Ensuring that you have an adequate amount of folic acid in your diet prior to and during pregnancy will help to ensure a healthy pregnancy and a healthy baby. Aim for 400 mcg prior to pregnancy, and 600 mcg during pregnancy.
- Brown JE. Nutrition basics. Nutrition through the life cycle. Boston (MA): Cengage Learning; 2017. 600p.
- Government of Canada. Prenatal nutrition guidelines for health professionals – folate contributes to a healthy pregnancy [Internet]. Ottawa: Government of Canada: 2013 [cited 2020 Sep 26] 9 p. Available from: https://www.canada.ca/en/health-canada/services/publications/food-nutrition/prenatal-nutrition-guidelines-health-professionals-folate-contributes-healthy-pregnancy-2009.html
~ Written by Hailey Belaire