Many people believe folic acid is a must-have for pregnant women. And although that's true, folic acid is actually pretty vital beforehand as well — even before you start the family planning process. So, just when should you start taking folic acid so you can be best prepared for your pregnancy, planned or otherwise.
Surprisingly, there are a few different theories on when women should starting take folic acid. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), women of childbearing age should take 400 mcg of folic acid each day to prevent two common and serious birth defects: spina bifida and anencephaly. The reasoning comes down to the fact that nearly half of pregnancies are unplanned, and these particular birth defects take place within the first three to four weeks of pregnancy, according to the aforementioned CDC article. So if you're sexually active and there's any chance you could get pregnant, you should consider taking folic acid daily as a precautionary measure.
According to the aforementioned WebMD article, however, it's important to already have folic acid in your system when you become pregnant. So for women who are actively trying to conceive, the aforementioned WebMD article shared that the best time to start taking folic acid is one month prior to conception. Although most multivitamins contain folic acid, you want to make sure it contains the recommended dosage. Not only do you need to see if there's enough folic acid in your multivitamin, but you also want to be sure you're not taking over 1000 mcg daily, unless your doctor's said otherwise. Before pregnancy, as mentioned above, 400 mcg of folic acid is best every day. During pregnancy, it's recommended you up the folic acid dosage to 600 mcg and lower it back down to 500 mcg once you're breastfeeding, according to Baby Center.
Along with lowering the chances of birth defects, some research suggests folic acid may help lower your baby's risk of other defects, like cleft lip, cleft palate, and heart defects, according to the aforementioned Baby Center article. It may also reduce mom's chance of preeclampsia. So if you're planning to have a baby soon or think there's a chance you could get pregnant, don't skip the folic acid, and start taking it at least one month prior to when you plan to conceive.