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What Is Folic Acid? Pregnant Women Should Know The Answer

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There's a seemingly endless list of terms to remember when you're pregnant. From Braxton-Hicks and a cerclage, to the horrendous term "cervical incompetence" and effacement, growing a human being inside your body definitely expands your vocabulary. Something you've probably never heard before, but start hearing about a lot when you're trying to conceive or newly pregnant, is folic acid. So, what is folic acid, anyway? Perhaps even more pressing, why is it so important to pregnant people and the people who care for them for 40 (more or less) weeks?

According to BabyCenter's Medical Advisory Board, folic acid "is the synthetic form of vitamin B9, also known as folate." The reason this particular acid is so important when an individual is trying to conceive and/or is pregnant is because, according to BabyCenter, folic acid "helps prevent neural tube defects (NTDs) – serious birth defects of the spinal cord (such as spina bifida) and the brain (such as anencephaly). The neural tube is the part of the embryo from which your baby's spine and brain develop."

Folic acid is also used to treat certain kinds of anemia common in women of childbearing age, says The Office on Women's Health, which is part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Due to this treatment ability, and other factors, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends all women with active reproductive organs to take "400 to 800 micrograms of folic acid every day."

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Armed with this knowledge, it makes complete sense why everyone is so concerned about how much folic acid you're getting while trying to conceive and/or while pregnant. So how do you make sure you're getting all the folic acid you need?

Thankfully, there are multiple ways to get folic acid. The Office on Women's Health says it's possible to get enough folic acid from foods alone, as many cereals and breads are required to have a certain amount of folate per the Food and Drug Administration's (FDA) regulations. Your doctor may also prescribe you a prenatal vitamin with folic acid, or a folic acid specific supplement, especially if you are deficient. The Office on Women's Health provides the following list of folic acid rich foods:

  • Spinach and other dark green, leafy vegetables
  • Oranges and orange juice
  • Nuts
  • Beans
  • Poultry (chicken, turkey, etc.) and meat
  • Whole grains

Since it's totally possible to get enough folic acid from food alone, there's no reason to rush out and get a supplement unless it is something you're actively worried about. In that case, contact your OB-GYN, Certified Nurse Midwife (CNM), or other health care professional to discuss your concerns. One pro-tip from one formerly anemic pregnant person to another? If you get on a folic acid supplement definitely have a conversation about how to handle constipation.