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Center for Congenital and Inherited Disorders

Folic Acid

Why Folic Acid is So Important

Folic acid is a B vitamin. It is used in our bodies to make new cells. If a woman has enough folic acid in her body before she is pregnant, it can help prevent major birth defects of her baby's brain and spine. These birth defects are called neural tube defects or NTDs. Women need to take folic acid every day starting before they are pregnant to help prevent NTDs.

Some studies suggest that folic acid may also protect women and men from heart disease, cervical and colon cancer and possibly breast cancer.

What you can do:

Take a multivitamin with 400 micrograms of folic acid every day before pregnancy and during early pregnancy, as part of a healthy diet.

Eat a healthy diet that includes foods that contain folate, the natural form of the vitamin. Such foods include fortified breakfast cereals, beans, leafy green vegetables and orange juice.

If you have already had a pregnancy affected by a birth defect of the brain or spinal cord, take 4 milligrams (4,000 micrograms) of folic acid daily. Begin taking this amount one month before you start trying to get pregnant and continue through the first three months of pregnancy.