Why Folic Acid is Essential for all Child-Bearing Aged Women

Reviewed by James Brann, MD
Most mothers already know that folic acid is recommended as a supplement during pregnancy, if not before. However, many women do not know why, or how, folic acid is beneficial for the fetus. They just know it should be part of their diet.
Folic acid is a B-Vitamin, B9, which is primarily found in green, leafy vegetables or in grains and other healthy foods. Although it is indeed important for a woman to get plenty of folic acid during pregnancy, it is even more important for a woman to have enough of it prior to conception.

The problem is, many women do not plan their pregnancies, and therefore some women may be deficient in folic acid even before the realization that they are expecting. If the woman does not have enough folic acid, there is a greater chance of the baby being born with serious birth defects, particularly brain development. Some of these include:

  • Anencephaly – which is a serious underdevelopment of the baby’s brain
  • Encephalocele – when the brain tissue sticks out from a hole in the skull
  • Spina Bifida – the incompleteness of the spinal column and cord
Other possible brain development issues, such as downs syndrome can also come from folate deficiency, which is derived from a Latin word called “folium”; meaning leaf. Humans need folate to repair DNA, which is why it is so critical in the first trimester of pregnancy.
The problem is, many women do not discover their pregnancy at least for five or six weeks after conception, and by then, any lack of folic acid may have already done the damage to an unborn fetus. So, what can a woman do to prevent this from occurring?
From the time she is of child-bearing age, whether a woman plans on having a baby or not, she should be getting an adequate amount of B9. Organizations like the March of Dimes have been running campaigns for this cause for years, trying to educate young women on the need for adding leafy greens and Vitamin B to their daily diet. Folic acid deficiency in infants can happen with any pregnancy, but definitely becomes less risky for those women who have at least a marginal awareness and who take action, whether she is planning on having a baby any time soon or not.

What types of foods are high in folic acid? Here is a short list:

  • Spinach
  • Corn
  • Beets
  • Citrus oranges, grapefruit, papaya
  • Raspberries and strawberries
  • Brussel sprouts and cauliflower
  • Avocados
  • Broccoli
  • Celery
  • Green peas and beans
  • Lentils and beans like pinto, garbanzo, kidney, lima or black beans
  • Leafy greens like collard, mustard, and turnip
  • Chickpeas
  • Both winter and summer squash
  • Seeds and nuts like almonds, flax or peanuts
  • Asparagus
  • Fortified grains
  • Romaine lettuce

As an added benefit, eating many of these types of fruits, vegetables and enriched grains are also packed with other nutritious vitamins and minerals. This is great for both the mother-to-be and for the unborn baby.


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