Folic Acid: The Pre-Pregnancy Vitamin

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Folate (or a folic acid supplement) is particularly important for women who are pregnant or about to become pregnant to prevent the birth defect spina bifida and other neural tube defects. I work in a large spina bifida clinic and train many aspiring dietitians.  One of the things they tell me at the end of the day is, “I am going home and making sure to take my vitamins!”

Because these defects typically occur before a woman even knows she is pregnant, it is crucial that all women of childbearing age take a folic acid supplement.  This is why I call folic acid the “pre-pregnancy vitamin.” If you are thinking about having a baby, start taking a supplement in advance of getting pregnant!  Ideally, try to find a supplement that has minimal additives, fillers, and is free of dyes and preservatives.

Folic Acid - The Pre-Pregnancy Vitamin

What exactly is Folate?

Folate is a water-soluble vitamin found in leafy green vegetables (spinach, kale, collard greens), organ meats, asparagus, oranges, strawberries, legumes, and whole grains.  Folic Acid is a form of folate that is found in dietary supplements and fortified grains/cereals.  Food fortification of folate began in 1998 providing 140 mcg folic acid per 100 mg food.  This is why you see folic acid in most of the grains and cereals that you purchase in the market that would not naturally be sources of folic acid.  The synthetic form of folic acid in vitamins and fortified foods is very well absorbed by the body.

So what does Folate do?

This vitamin helps tissues in the body grow and also helps to prevent anemia.  Folate works with vitamin C and vitamin B12 to help the body break down, use, and then create new proteins. The vitamin helps form red blood cells and produce DNA, which is the building block of the human body!  As you can see, it has VERY important functions in the body.

So exactly how much do you need each day?

  • 1 to 3 years: 120 micrograms per day
  • 4 to 8 years: 160 micrograms per day
  • 9 to 13 years: 250 micrograms per day
  • 14 to 18 years: 330 micrograms per day
  • 19+ years: 320 micrograms per day
  • Pregnancy: 520 micrograms per day
  • Lactation: 450 micrograms per day

Be Well, Be NutritionWise.

~ Nicole Meadow, MPN, RD of NutritionWise

This post is solely for informational purposes. It is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for medical advice. Before undertaking any course of treatment or dietary changes, you should seek the advice of your physician or other health care provider.


  1. avatar

    I use Promise Prenatal Vitamins and it contains 990 mcg for Stage 1 (pre-wk 13) then goes down for Stage 2 (wk.14-40) and Stage 3 (lac and recovery) to 800 mcg. It looks like it follows the DRI’s pretty closely. Just a little extra for preconception. Also is dye and filler free. OBGYN says the amounts aren’t too much. Not sure what the upper limit is for folic acid.

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  3. avatar

    Hi! Do the Honest Whole-Food Prenatal Vitamins have enough folate for someone who is going to start trying? Thank you!

    • avatar

      Hello, May! What an important (and exciting) question!

      Both our Prenatal and Prenatal Complete vitamins contain enough folic acid (800mcg) for someone who is looking to become pregnant. They do contain different forms, so if you are interested in which form may be better for you personally, we recommend you discuss with your physician.

      Let us know if you have any other questions!

      • avatar
        R Salegio

        Hello, I know this post is from several months ago, but the Prenatal Complete Once Daily actually has 600 mcg, not 800 mcg of Folate. I was worried that it had to be >1000 mcg when trying to conceive.

  4. avatar
    Jessica Morris

    We are looking to start trying for a baby this Fall. When is the best time to start taking the pre pregnancy vitamins?

  5. avatar

    We are interested in vitamin suplements that contain the natural form of Vitamin B9 /Folate, not the ‘man made’ form folic acid. Do the Honest Company plans to sell those?

  6. avatar
    Sherry Higgins

    Do the Honest Co Prenatal vitamins contain the naturally occuring folate or the synthetically made folic acid? Thanks!

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