Expectant mothers need folic acid, a type of B vitamin, that contributes to the development of a healthy fetus. The vitamin can help prevent birth defects that affect the formation of the brain and spinal cord.

When should expectant mothers start taking folic acid?

Spina bifida is the most frequent spinal cord disorder in children, according to Sarah Evans, M.D., former director of Children’s National Health System’s Division of Pediatric Rehabilitation Medicine, and former medical director of the Children’s National Spina Bifida Clinic. Supplementation with folic acid before conception reduces the risk of spina bifida (open spine), a neural tube defect.

“There is evidence irrefutable that shows that folic acid taken prior to pregnancy can drastically reduce the incidences of myelodysplasia or spina bifida,” says Dr. Evans.

Why is folic acid important for expectant mothers?

Vital fetal growth happens early in pregnancy. Failure of the fetal neural tube to close, or spina bifida, can develop within 30 days after fertilization. That’s why it’s important to take folic acid during conception and early pregnancy.

How much folic acid should a person take?

Everyone needs folic acid since our bodies use the vitamin to make new cells. About 400 micrograms is the daily allowance recommended for women before they become pregnant to help prevent major birth defects of the baby’s brain and spine.

You can get the recommended 400 micrograms by taking a daily multivitamin or by eating fortified foods such as grains, pastas, breakfast cereals, green vegetables and fruits.


Sarah Evans, MD, is the former director of Children’s National's Division of Pediatric Rehabilitation Medicine, and former medical director of the Children’s National Spina Bifida Clinic.

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