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Folic Acid: Your “before pregnancy” vitamin!

Folate (folic acid) is a B vitamin that plays a critical role in the development of the spine, brain and skull of the fetus during the first four weeks of pregnancy.

This critical time is often before a woman knows she is pregnant. Not getting enough folate puts babies at risk of being born with birth defects known as neural tube disorders (NTDs). Getting enough folate before getting pregnant lowers the risk of NTDs including spina bifida and anencephaly. These birth defects can cause serious disability, including paralysis or even death.

You can reduce the risk of NTDs by following Canada’s Food guide and taking a multivitamin supplement with folic acid every day starting at least three months before you get pregnant.

Folic Acid

Food... follow Canada's Food Guide and include good sources of folate: dark green vegetables (e.g. spinach, romaine lettuce) broccoli, beets, brussel sprouts, green peas, asparagus, parsnips, avocados, orange juice, berries, beans, chick peas, sunflower seeds, bread and pasta made from enriched flour.

Vitamin... To make sure you get enough folic acid every day, Health Canada recommends that women take a folic acid supplement for at least 3 months before they get pregnant. Many women take this vitamin throughout their childbearing years. You don't have to buy a special multivitamin. Use these tips to help you choose the right vitamin with folic acid.

  • Although a prenatal multivitamin has higher nutrients, a standard multivitamin is often enough.
  • Talk to your health care provider about the amount of folic acid you need.
    Read the warnings on the label; some vitamins are not recommended during pregnancy.
  • Buy a generic or “store brand” version to save money.
  • Do not take more than one per day.
  • Take them at least three months before you become pregnant. Keep taking it during pregnancy and after the baby is born.

Some women need more folic acid than others.

Women with diabetes, epilepsy, obesity, from higher risk ethnic groups (e.g. Sikh), or who already have had a child or pregnancy with a defect of the spine of brain may need higher amounts of folic acid. Talk to a genetics cousellor for advice. In addition, women who have difficulty remembering to take medications, may not eat enough healthy food, or have a history of alcohol, tobacco or drug use, may also require higher amounts of folic acid. Talk to your health care provider about the amount of folic acid that is right for you as you plan for pregnancy and in the three trimesters of pregnancy. Ask your pharmacist about the best way to get enough folic acid in a supplement.

Am I getting enough folic acid?

  • I am taking a multi vitamin with folic acid every day.
  • I eat foods rich in folate every day.
  • I will talk to my health care provider about folic acid.


Local public health unit: 1-800-267-8097

Health care provider:


Genetic counsellor: Canadian Association of Genetic Counsellors or www.cagc-accg.ca

EatRight Ontario at 1 877-510-510-2

Dietitian: www.dietitians.ca

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