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Folic acid: for preconception and pregnancy


You’re having a baby or planning a pregnancy. Learn what you need to know about folic acid.

What is folic acid?

Folic acid (also known as folic acid or vitamin B9) is a vitamin that helps grow and protect the cells in your body. It is found in some foods and in multivitamin supplements.

Why it’s important folic acid before conception and during pregnancy?

Your body needs folic acid when cells are growing and dividing rapidly. This occurs during pregnancy, the uterus (womb) expands, the placenta develops, your body circulates more blood, and the fetus grows. Because of this, folic acid is important for a healthy pregnancy.

As your body grows, your baby is growing very rapidly. Maintaining healthy eating habits and adequate levels of vitamins and minerals (such as folic acid) before conception and during pregnancy helps reduce the risk of some birth defects. Folic acid reduces the risk of birth defects such as neural tube defects (NTDs), heart defects and limb abnormalities of the urinary tract, the narrowing of the lower valve of the stomach, and oral facial clefts (such as cleft lip and cleft) palate.

How I can get enough folic acid?

Folic acid is found in dark green, leafy vegetables, citrus fruits, whole grains and other foods. In Canada, since 1998, enriched white flour, pasta, and cornmeal have been fortified with folic acid. Since then, there has been a decrease in the rate of neural tube defects in Canada.

Here is a list of some foods that are good sources of folic acid recommended:

  • fortified grains
  • spinach
  • lentils
  • chickpeas
  • asparagus
  • broccoli
  • peas
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Corn
  • orange

sure to get enough folic acid every day food is a challenge. That’s why Canadian experts recommend you take a multivitamin with folic acid to ensure you get the amount you and your baby need.

When should I take folic acid supplements?

Because folic acid is so important in the early stages of pregnancy, start taking a multivitamin with folic acid if you’re trying to conceive. It is important to get your daily dose of folic acid even before becoming pregnant. Continue during pregnancy and for at least four to six weeks after childbirth and while breastfeeding.

neural tube defects (NTDs)

At the beginning of pregnancy, even before the time most women who are pregnant, folic acid plays an important role in the early development of the part of the fetus called the neural tube. Neural tube forms in weeks three and four of pregnancy and grows in the brain and spinal cord. When the tube does not close properly, this is called a neural tube defect (NTD). Some examples of neural tube defects are spina bifida (the spine or on your deck stick back), anencephaly (absence of part of the brain) and encephalocele (the part of the brain that grows outside the skull).

How do I choose a multivitamin?

Talk it over with your health professional-care. If you are at a low risk of neural tube defects (NTDs), choose a multivitamin with 0.4-1.0 milligrams (mg) of folic acid. However, if you are at increased risk for neural tube defects, your healthcare provider may suggest a higher daily dose of
folic acid. You may have a higher risk if:

  • Have you had a previous pregnancy affected by neural tube defects
  • who have a family history of neural tube defects
  • you belong to an ethnic group that research shows are at increased risk for neural tube defects (such as Sikhs or Celtic)
  • is insulin dependent diabetes
  • you are obese
  • take certain medications for the treatment of a seizure disorder
  • who have trouble remembering to take medications
  • who have an addiction to alcohol or drugs *

If you are at increased risk, your health professional may recommend that you take up to 5.0 milligrams of folic acid daily for at least three months before conception. After 10-12 weeks of pregnancy, switch to the lower dose (0.4-1.0 mg) for the remainder of pregnancy and continue during breastfeeding.

neural tube defects (NTDs)

At the beginning of pregnancy, even before the time most women who are pregnant, folic acid plays an important role in the early development of the part of the fetus called the neural tube. Neural tube forms in weeks three and four of pregnancy and grows in the brain and spinal cord. When the tube does not close properly, this is called a neural tube defect (NTD). Some examples of neural tube defects are spina bifida (the spine or on your deck stick back), anencephaly (absence of part of the brain) and encephalocele (the part of the brain that grows outside the skull).

Can I have too much folic acid or vitamins?

If you take a multivitamin with folic acid and eat a balanced diet, following the Food Guide Canada, you do not have too much folic acid. If you do end up with no extra in your body, usually just pass in your urine. If a higher than normal amount of folic acid is needed, talk to your healthcare provider about taking a folic acid supplement with additional multivitamin to get the right amount.

Taking more than the recommended amount of vitamins can be harmful dose. Make sure you do not take more than the recommended daily multivitamin complex your dose. Read the label of any vitamins when you buy outside the pharmacy.

Choose a multivitamin with vitamin A and beta-carotene rather than as retinol since too much retinol can cause birth defects.

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