You’ve likely heard that taking a folic acid supplement is key during pregnancy, but is there any benefit to increasing your folic acid intake months—or even years—before you intend to start a family, or if you don't intend to become pregnant? We spoke with medical experts to find out.
Folic acid is the synthetic form of folate, a naturally occurring B-9 vitamin. It plays a key role in mitigating the risk of birth defects that affect the brain and spine, such as spina bifida. According to the experts, healthy women should take 400 micrograms of folic acid a day beginning one month before they plan to try and get pregnant.
However, the CDC recommends that all women of childbearing age follow these guidelines to be prepared should an unplanned pregnancy occur, notes Michael Tahery, MD, a board-certified OB/GYN based in Los Angeles.
“Many women do get pregnant when they’re not trying,” Tahery explains. He adds that folic acid can help prevent neural tube defects that can form in the first three to four weeks after conception—before many women are even aware that they're expecting.
Some sources of folate-rich foods include green vegetables, such as spinach, asparagus, brussel sprouts, beans, avocado, and fortified grains such as pasta, bread, rice, and cereal.
Choosing to take a supplement months or years before one plans to conceive will not build up a reserve for a future pregnancy. “Vitamins are not in your body that long,” explains Sophia Yen, MD, MPH, co-founder and CEO of Pandia Health, the only female-founded, female-led, doctor-led birth control delivery service.
It’s important to note that folate can also be found in a variety of foods, too. “Nutrients are best absorbed when we get them directly from food,” Kerry Jones, a registered dietitian who works with maternal wellness startup Motherfigure, says. “Some sources of folate-rich foods include green vegetables, such as spinach, asparagus, brussel sprouts, beans, avocado, and fortified grains such as pasta, bread, rice, and cereal.”