The Importance of Folic Acid Before and During Pregnancy


Nannette Landry, CNM, South Shore Hospital

Nannette Landry, Certified Nurse Midwife

A woman's body goes through so many physical and hormonal changes during pregnancy that some experts compare the strain to that of running a marathon. Just like an athlete fuels his or her body for optimal performance, it's important for a woman who is pregnant (or may become pregnant) to nourish her body with a balanced diet rich in essential nutrients. Folic acid is one of the most important vitamins for a baby's healthy development.

Folic acid is a B-vitamin (B9) found naturally in some foods, such as leafy, dark green vegetables, citrus fruits and juices, and beans. Folic acid plays a large role in tissue formation and cell growth. The nutrient is so important that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that all women of childbearing age (between the ages of 15 and 45) consume 400 micrograms (mcg) of folic acid daily to prevent two types of neural tube defects, spina bifida and anencephaly.

It is important for a woman to have enough folic acid in her body even before becoming pregnant because these birth defects develop within the first few weeks of pregnancy.

When taken before and during early pregnancy, folic acid has been found to prevent up to 70 percent of serious birth defects of the brain and spine.

While eating healthy foods is a great way to properly nourish the body during pregnancy, it can be hard to get some nutrients—like folic acid and iron—through food alone. Although all enriched cereals and grain products in the US are fortified with this superhero B vitamin, only one-third of women of childbearing age get the recommended amount from their diet.

Taking prenatal vitamins combined with eating healthy foods can help a woman get the nutrients both she and her baby need before, during and after pregnancy.

Here are 10 great sources of folic acid I recommend that women add to their diet:

  1. Dark leafy greens, like spinach and kale
  2. Beans & lentils
  3. Avocado
  4. Citrus fruits
  5. Broccoli
  6. Seeds & nuts
  7. Squash
  8. Corn
  9. Cauliflower
  10. Carrots

Women should talk their doctor or midwife to make ensure they are getting the recommended amounts of the essential nutrients to ensure the healthiest pregnancy possible.

South Shore Health delivers the childbirth experience South Shore moms want. Our "Meet the Midwives" classes are a great way for expectant mothers and their coaches to meet certified nurse-midwives, like Nannette Landry, who will answer questions about midwifery care.