Folic Acid - What All Women Should Know

Why take folic acid before you get pregnant

Neural tube defects occur 25 to 29 days after a woman gets pregnant. At that time, many women are not even aware that they are pregnant. Because these defects form so early, you should begin taking vitamins that contain folic acid before you get pregnant. Begin taking folic acid when you stop using birth control.

Women need more folic acid during pregnancy and breastfeeding than they do normally. So you should continue taking folic acid all the time that you are pregnant. The dosage of folic acid might depend on your health history and the stage of your pregnancy. You should discuss this with your healthcare professional.

How much folic acid should I take and when?

To help reduce the risk of NTDs, women with no personal health risks and a planned pregnancy require a good diet of folate-rich foods and a daily multivitamin containing between 0.4 and 1.0 mg of folic acid for at least two to three months before conception and throughout pregnancy and the postpartum period (i.e., four to six weeks and as long as breastfeeding continues).

High-risk women including those with a previous child in the family with a neural tube defect require a daily multivitamin containing between 4.0 and 5.0 mg of folic acid, beginning at least three months before conception and continuing until 10 to 12 weeks post-conception and an increased dietary intake of folate-rich foods. From 12 weeks post-conception and continuing throughout pregnancy and for four to six weeks after the baby is born (or as long as breastfeeding continues), supplementation should consist of a daily multivitamin containing between 0.4 and 1.0 mg of folic acid.

Women taking a multivitamin containing folic acid should not take more than one daily dose, as indicated on the product label.

Can I get enough folic acid in food?

The easiest way to get the required daily amount of folic acid is to take a daily multivitamin containing a minimum of 0.4 mg of folic acid. Taking a vitamin does not reduce or replace the need for eating a healthy, well-balanced diet based on Eating Well with Canada’s Food Guide.

The information in this article is in part from the Spina Bifida & Hydrocephalus Association of Ontario (SB&H) and from the Nutrition in Pregnancy website, which, along with this article, is sponsored by Duchesnay.

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