Women who may become pregnant should be taking a daily folic acid supplement, experts say.
The recommendation, which is for both planned and unplanned pregnancies, comes from the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF), as folic acid could help prevent neural tube defects such as spina bifida.
A form of vitamin B-9, folic acid is especially important in the beginning stages of pregnancy to reduce the risk of birth defects in the brain and spine.
While certain foods like leafy greens, legumes and avocado naturally contain B-9 in the form of folate, it’s difficult to reach the recommended daily amount from diet alone.
The USPSTF is a panel supported by the United States Government. They made a similar recommendation in 2009, advising that women of childbearing age take folic acid supplements.
“The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force regularly looks at its previous recommendations to make sure the science still supports the previous Task Force recommendation,” said Dr. Alex Kemper, a member of the Task Force. “In this case the Task Force was able to reaffirm the previous recommendation that any women who can get pregnant should take folic acid supplements to prevent neural tube defects.”
Published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, the Task Force recommends between 0.4 and 0.8 milligrams of folic acid daily.
“There are multi-vitamins that have the right amount of folic acid in them, but you can also get supplements without the other components in there,” Kemper notes.
Folic acid supplements are recommended to all women who may get pregnant because the vitamin is needed during the first days of pregnancy, even before a woman knows she’s pregnant.
Prior to the push of the supplementation, 11 to 12 children per 10,000 births were born with neural tube defects. There are currently 6 to 7 cases per 10,000 births. Additionally, folic acid supplementation prevents up to 1,300 neural tube defects each year.
“Taking folic acid supplementation can prevent very serious birth defects and it’s a safe supplement to take,” said Kemper. “I would recommend that any woman who might get pregnant begin taking folic acid supplements daily.”