Folic Acid & Pregnancy:
Everything You Need To Know

Folate goes by a few different names. It's also known as folic acid and is a B vitamin called B9. While folate occurs naturally in many different foods, folic acid is the synthetic, more easily absorbed version that is added to many vitamins and fortified foods like cereal, bread and fruit juice.

Folic acid plays a crucial role in fetal development, particularly in the early stages of pregnancy. Adequate intake of folic acid before and during pregnancy can help prevent birth defects of the brain and spine, known as neural tube defects. It’s also essential to the production of healthy red blood cells and plays a vital role in protein metabolism and DNA formation.

In this article, we'll explore the importance of folic acid before and during pregnancy and discuss how much folic acid women should consume and the best way to incorporate it into your diet. We’ll also discuss the potential risks of not getting enough folic acid during pregnancy and the role of folic acid supplementation in prenatal care.

Timelines of pregnancy for first-time mothers and what they can expect. Learn possible changes in their body, their baby and about important doctor checkups.

Learn more

What is folic acid, and what does it do?

Folic acid is a vitamin that does a wide variety of work. A few of its functions are helping with cell division, making new cells by making and copying DNA, and using its amino acids to help the body utilize B12.

For everyone, having a lack of folate can be extremely serious—but even more so for pregnant women. A lack of folate can lead to the following:

  • Mouth sores and ulcers

  • Fatigue

  • Disturbed vision
  • Difficulty concentrating

  • Depression

  • Muscle weakness
  • Heart palpitations

  • Changes in skin, nails and hair

Why do I need folic acid during pregnancy?

Folate is necessary for everyone, but pregnant people must take extra care to get enough of the vitamin both before and during pregnancy because getting the recommended amount helps prevent serious birth defects.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that any person who may become pregnant, even if they’re not trying to get pregnant, take at least 400 mcg of folic acid daily.

Folic acid is especially crucial during the early stages of pregnancy before a woman even knows she’s pregnant, which is why this recommendation exists.

What complications can occur from a folate deficiency during pregnancy?

Not having enough folate during pregnancy can cause some serious complications. Folate is critical, especially for the fetus’s growing spinal cord and brain. Severe birth defects called neural tube defects can happen if a mother has a folate deficit.

One such birth defect is spina bifida, in which the brain and spinal cord don't form properly. Anencephaly is another birth defect that can result from decreased folic acid consumption in which a child is born without parts of the brain and skull.

Lack of folate can also put you at a higher risk for a condition called placental abruption, in which your placenta prematurely separates from your uterus and can lead to a stillbirth.

In addition, babies of mothers with low folic acid levels can be born early, have a low birth rate, and may have an increased risk of developing autism.

How much folic acid should I take?

The recommended amount of folic acid varies depending on the person, but it’s typically 400 mcg daily for women who aren’t pregnant and 600 mcg daily for women who are pregnant or nursing.

What are the best foods for folic acid?

For women trying to increase their consumption of foods with folic acid, there are lots of options. Below are some of the top foods for folate levels and other vital nutrients:

  • Legumes. Legumes are a type of food that includes lentils, peas and beans. One cup of cooked lentils has 358 mcg of folate, and a cup of cooked kidney beans has 131 mcg.

  • Asparagus. This vegetable has many nutrients, including 134 mcg of folate in each 1/2 cup cooked.

  • Eggs. Eggs have protein, B12, selenium and 22 mcg of folate in 1 large egg.

  • Leafy greens. Greens are low in calories and high in nutrients, including 58.2 mcg of folate in 1 cup of raw spinach.

  • Beets. Beets have Vitamin C, potassium and 148 mcg of folate in 1 cup.

  • Citrus fruits. These fruits include lemons, limes, grapefruit and oranges. One large orange has 55 mcg of folate and tons of Vitamin C.

  • Brussels sprouts. Brussel sprouts taste terrific roasted and have 47 mcg of folate in each 1/2 cup cooked.

  • Nuts and seeds. These tend to have high protein and fiber. One ounce of walnuts has 28 mcg of folate, while 1 ounce of flax seeds has 24 mcg.

  • Mangos. Mangoes have 71 mcg per 1 cup.

  • Beef liver. Beef liver has a ton of protein, copper, and Vitamins A and B12. A 3-ounce portion of cooked beef liver has 212 mcg of folate.

  • Broccoli. There’s 57 mcg of folate in 1 cup of raw broccoli but 84 mcg in only a 1/2 cup of cooked broccoli. Broccoli also has a lot of vitamins, including C, K and A.

  • Wheat germ. This grain has a lot of fiber and 78.7 mcg of folate in only 1 ounce.

  • Bananas. One medium banana has 23.6 mcg of folate and lots of potassium, manganese and Vitamin B6.

  • Avocado. Avocados are a heart-healthy fat, and a 1/2 avocado has 82 mcg of folate.

  • Fortified grains. These include fortified grains found in bread and pasta. One cup of cooked spaghetti has around 102 mcg of folic acid.

  • Edamame. These green bean-like seeds can be quite tasty and have 428 mcg in only 1 cup.

  • Sweet corn. Corn has 61 mcg per cup and a wide variety of vitamins and minerals.

Folic acid is extremely important during pregnancy and everyday life. While you can get quite a bit of folic acid in the foods you eat, it’s often not enough to meet the recommended daily amount of folic acid for pregnancy.

Thankfully, there are a number of ways you can obtain folic acid, including supplements, which make it easier than you might think to eat healthily for you and your baby.

Contact All About Women Obstetrics & Gynecology

If you’re pregnant or planning to become pregnant and want help figuring out your folic acid needs, our OB-GYNs are here to discuss all of your questions and concerns.

At All About Women Obstetrics & Gynecology, our compassionate OB-GYNs have been helping mothers in Gainesville and Lake City bring healthy babies into the world for more than 20 years. Our patient-centered practice is focused on providing you and your baby with the best prenatal care to suit your unique needs.

Contact us today to schedule your appointment.