How Much Folic Acid Before and During Pregnancy

Learn about the folic acid dosage before and during pregnancy.

Folic Acid Dosage

Every woman planning to get pregnant should take 400 micrograms (400 mcg or 0.4 mg) of folic acid daily. Either in a vitamin with 400 micrograms of folic acid or foods that have been enriched with folic acid.

Once you become pregnant the dosage should be increased to at least 600 mcg, however your doctor may recommend 1000 mcg, and most prenatal vitamins contain this amount.

I just want my baby to be healthy.” This is the usual response when one asks an expecting mother whether she wants a boy or a girl. Oftentimes, however, women put their babies in jeopardy within the first month of pregnancy without even realizing it.

Many women do not understand the importance of regular folic acid intake before and during pregnancy, and how without it they put their unborn child at risk before they have even conceived.

Of course every mother wants the best for their children, and with a little information, a little precaution and preparation there are certain conditions which can be effectively prevented, or at least experience reduced risk by as much as 70% by taking folic acid on a daily basis.

Folic acid is a form of the B vitamin that aids in the regular cellular development and regeneration, and is especially crucial within the first weeks of your unborn baby’s development. It helps to insure proper formation of the brain and spinal cord. Without folic acid there is a higher chance of miscarriage, and a 1 in 1000 chance that the child will end up with a Neural Tube Disorder (NTD).

Neural Tube Defects can manifest themselves as a number of different conditions upon birth, including spina bifida and anencephaly. The former, roughly meaning “open spine”, in its most severe cases can result in paralysis of the legs as well as bladder and bowel control problems. Anencephaly is a fatal condition caused by underdevelopment of the brain and skull. Primary risk indicators for NTDs include whether or not you have had a previous pregnancy which resulted in NTDs and/or whether or not anyone in your family has had a child with a NTDs.

Adults, women and men alike, experience health benefits from regular folic acid intake as well. Individuals who take adequate amounts of folic acid experience:

  • Proper cellular division and function

  • Proper formation of hemoglobin

  • Reduced risk of heart attack and stroke

  • Protection against certain types of cancer

  • Possible reduced risk of Alzheimer's disease

For most women the recommended dosage for everyday health and pre-pregnancy preparation is 400 micrograms per day. Once you become pregnant the dosage should be increased to at least 600mcg, however your doctor may recommend 1000mcg, and most prenatal vitamins contain this amount.

It is important to know that folic acid is a water-soluble vitamin, thus the body will naturally flush out excess quantities present in the system, making overdosing less of a consideration than with vitamin A, for example. One of the few known dangers of taking folic acid daily is the potential for hiding a vitamin B deficiency, often occurring in vegetarians, particularly if you do not eat or drink dairy products. If you think you might be at risk for a vitamin B deficiency, consult your doctor.

The particular form known as folic acid is man made, and found primarily alone in folic acid pills, in conjunction with other daily essentials in multivitamins, and in fortified foods. The natural version which is contained in certain foods, folate, is not as readily or as effectively absorbed by your body. As such, it is highly recommended that you take the synthetic version on a daily basis.

The FDA mandates that all enriched grain products, such as cereals, breads, pasta, and rice, must have folic acid added. Some go as far as to add 100% of your recommended daily dosage, so read the nutritional information on your cereal as you shop.

Green foods generally tend to contain folate, the natural version of the vitamin. The North Carolina Folic Acid Awareness Campaign hosts a website “getfolic.com” that indicates which foods are “Excellent”, “Very Good”, or “Good” sources of folate.

  • Excellent sources include the aforementioned fortified breakfast cereals, lentils, beans, chickpeas, chicken and beef liver.

  • Very good sources include oatmeal, asparagus, spinach, romaine lettuce, and lima beans.

  • Good sources include broccoli, canned corn, enriched pastas and breads, brussel sprouts, orange juice, and avocados.

However, a multivitamin still remains the #1 recommended means to get your folic acid because of all the other vitamins included. Remember that extra folic acid will be flushed out of your system, so do not hesitate to take a multivitamin simply because your breakfast cereal has 100% of your daily dosage already.

Keeping in mind that 50% of all pregnancies are unplanned, and that it is not uncommon for a pregnancy to go unknown for a month or more, it is critically important for any woman of childbearing age to make sure she takes folic acid on a regular basis, and with few known negative side effects, proper folic acid consumption is an easy and safe way for you to reap a wide variety of health benefits with nearly no risk!

SUMMARY AND RECOMMENDATIONS for FOLIC ACID

  • It is known that folic acid deficiency can cause a defect in your baby’s spine called neural tube defect. By taking folic acid supplementation before and during pregnancy you can reduce your chances of having this problem by 70%.

  • If you have had a previous child with a neural tube defect you should take 4 mg per day of folic acid starting one month prior to pregnancy and continue this dosage through the first 13 weeks of pregnancy.

  • If you have pre-gestational diabetes you should also take 4 mg of folic acid each day starting one month prior and through the first trimester of pregnancy.

  • All other women without any risk factors should take a multivitamin that contains 0.4 to 0.8 mg of folic acid each day prior to pregnancy and 1.0 mg during pregnancy.

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