Q: What is folic acid, and why do I need it?
A: Folic acid is a type of B vitamin that's a crucial for your health, especially when you're trying to get pregnant and during pregnancy. Folic acid is found naturally in certain foods like oranges, leafy green veggies, and beans (it's called folate). But most moms-to-be don't eat enough of these foods regularly to get all the folic acid they need, which is why taking prenatal vitamins that contain it is so important.
Folic acid has been shown to significantly prevent major birth defects, especially those that can occur very early in pregnancy, often before women even know they're expecting. These include problems with your baby's developing brain and spinal cord, called neural-tube defects (NTDs), like spina bifida (the leading cause of childhood paralysis) and anencephaly (a fatal condition in which a baby is born with a severely underdeveloped brain and skull).
Folic acid may also help keep your baby from developing a heart defect, cleft lip, or cleft palate, and has been shown to reduce the risk of preterm birth when taken for more than a year before pregnancy. Folic acid also helps support the rapid growth of the placenta and unborn baby, and your baby's development can be slowed if you don't get enough. One study found that women with folic acid deficiencies were two to three times more likely to have a premature or low birth weight baby than those who got enough of the vitamin. Luckily, prenatal vitamins are packed with folic acid, and taking one every day before you get pregnant and during pregnancy can make a huge impact on keeping you and your baby healthy.