How do I get folic acid?

You can get folic acid in two ways.

  1. Through the foods you eat. Folate is found naturally in some foods, including spinach, nuts, and beans. Folic acid is found in fortified foods (called "enriched foods"), such as breads, pastas, and cereals. Look for the term "enriched" on the ingredients list to find out whether the food has added folic acid.
  2. As a vitamin. Most multivitamins sold in the United States contain 400 micrograms, or 100% of the daily value, of folic acid. Check the label to make sure.
  • How much folic acid do women need?
    1. All women need 400 micrograms of folic acid every day. Women who can get pregnant should get 400 to 800 micrograms of folic acid from a vitamin or from food that has added folic acid, such as breakfast cereal.2 This is in addition to the folate you get naturally from food.
    2. Some women may need more folic acid each day. See the chart to find out how much folic acid you need.

    If you:

    Amount of folic acid you may need daily

    Could get pregnant or are pregnant

    400–800 micrograms. Your doctor may prescribe a prenatal vitamin with more.

    Had a baby with a neural tube defect (such as spina bifida(SPEYE-nuh BIF-ih-duh)) and want to get pregnant again

    4,000 micrograms. Your doctor may prescribe this amount. Research shows taking this amount may lower the risk of having another baby with spina bifida.

    Have a family member with spina bifida and could get pregnant

    4,000 micrograms. Your doctor may prescribe this amount.

    Have spina bifida and want to get pregnant

    4,000 micrograms. Your doctor may prescribe this amount. Women with spina bifida have a higher risk of having children with the condition.

    Take medicines to treat epilepsy, type 2 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, or lupus

    Talk to your doctor or nurse. Folic acid supplements can interact with these medicines.

    Are on dialysis for kidney disease

    Talk to your doctor or nurse.

    Have a health condition, such as inflammatory bowel disease or celiac disease, that affects how your body absorbs folic acid

    Talk to your doctor or nurse.

  • Are some women at risk for not getting enough folic acid?
  • If you do not get enough folic acid before and during pregnancy, your baby is at higher risk for neural tube defects.

    Neural tube defects are serious birth defects that affect the spine, spinal cord, or brain and may cause death. These include:

    • Spina bifida. This condition happens when an unborn baby's spinal column does not fully close during development in the womb, leaving the spinal cord exposed. As a result, the nerves that control the legs and other organs do not work. Children with spina bifida often have lifelong disabilities. They may also need many surgeries.
    • Anencephaly(an-en-SEF-uh-lee).This means that most or all of the brain and skull does not develop in the womb. Almost all babies with this condition die before or soon after birth.

    Do I need to take folic acid every day even if I'm not planning to get pregnant?

    Yes. All women who can get pregnant need to take 400 to 800 micrograms of folic acid every day, even if you're not planning to get pregnant. There are several reasons why:

    • Your birth control may not work or you may not use birth control correctly every time you have sex. In a survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, almost 40% of women with unplanned pregnancies were using birth control.
    • Birth defects of the brain and spine can happen in the first few weeks of pregnancy, often before you know you are pregnant. By the time you find out you are pregnant, it might be too late to prevent the birth defects.
    • You need to take folic acid every day because it is a water soluble B-vitamin. Water soluble means that it does not stay in the body for a long time. Your body metabolizes (uses) folic acid quickly, so your body needs folic acid each day to work properly.