Healthcare Tips

Can a Vitamin Help Prevent Birth Defects?

January 20, 2022

Pregnancy isn’t always sunshine and roses. Worrying about the possibility of your newborn having a birth defect or other complication is unnecessary stress. When it comes to protecting your unborn baby, a diet rich in nutrients, including proper supplements, can support a healthy pregnancy, delivery, and beyond. It’s National Folic Acid Awareness Week. Read to learn about this essential vitamin that can help prevent some birth defects.

Folic acid is a B vitamin found mostly in dark green vegetables, such as kale, broccoli, and spinach, and in legumes, such as peas and beans. This necessary nutrient helps in the production of red blood cells, which carry oxygen around the body. It, therefore, supports the maintenance of your body’s iron levels, counteracting diseases like anemia, and may even help prevent changes in DNA that can lead to cancer. Not only that, but folic acid also helps generate cells for skin, nails, and hair growth. The Center for Disease Control suggests that every woman of reproductive age take 400 micrograms of folic acid per day.

What does folic acid have to do with birth defects?

When you’re pregnant, folic acid helps your body produce enough red and white blood cells to support the growth of your baby—not a small task. Neural tube birth defects, such as spinal bifida and anencephaly, generally form within the first 28 days of pregnancy, a time in which women may not know they’re pregnant. Folic acid is vital in the prevention of these birth defects, which is why women are encouraged to supplement even before they conceive.

How do I get enough?

Supplementation is encouraged for any woman of reproductive age, especially if she’s trying to conceive. The recommended daily amount, 400 micrograms, is a staple in almost all prenatal vitamins. Many women, however, don’t begin taking such vitamins until after a pregnancy is confirmed. So, if you think you might become pregnant, you can increase the chances that your growing baby will get all the necessary vitamins in those first few weeks of development by adding a stand-alone folic acid supplement into your vitamin regimen now.


In addition to folic acid, consume a diet rich in folate, the precursor to folic acid. Folate is found in many enriched bread and grain products. You can also find it in dark leafy greens, peas, beans, lentils, asparagus, broccoli, and oranges. Getting enough folic acid through a mixture of diet and supplementation ensures your baby the best start possible.

Folic Acid Awareness Week is meant to increase understanding of the importance of including this nutrient in your regimen both before conception and during pregnancy. Although we may not be able to reduce the risk for all possible pregnancy complications or birth defects, taking measures to prevent them is an important step.

If you want to know more about nutrition during pregnancy, or any other women’s health issue, the experts at Hancock OB/GYN are ready to help.