While taking folic acid cannot guarantee a healthy baby, it can help. Taking folic acid before and during early pregnancy reduces the risk of spina bifida and other neural tube defects. All women should take a daily vitamin including 400 micrograms (mcg)—the same as 0.4 milligrams (mg)—of folic acid every day.

A woman thinking about getting pregnant, who already has a child with spina bifida, who has spina bifida herself, or who has had a history of pregnancy affected by a neural tube defect, needs a higher dose of folic acid. These women should take 4,000 micrograms (mcg) of folic acid by prescription for one to three months before becoming pregnant. Taking this amount of folic acid by prescription may reduce the chance of a neural tube defect like spina bifida in future pregnancies.

However, any woman taking this extra folic acid should not get this amount by taking more multivitamins, because too much of some of the other vitamins could harm either mother or child. A doctor should prescribe the extra folic acid supplement.

Before the next pregnancy, a woman with any of the above risk factors should speak with her health care provider about her personal risk of having a baby with a neural tube defect. She may need to get a prescription for folic acid before trying to become pregnant.

Folic acid is a common water-soluble B vitamin that is essential for the functioning of the human body. During periods of rapid growth (such as pregnancy and fetal development) the body's requirement for this vitamin increases. Folic acid can be found in multivitamins, fortified breakfast cereals, dark green leafy vegetables such as broccoli and spinach, egg yolks, and some fruits and fruit juices. However, the average American diet does not supply the recommended level of folic acid.

Spina Bifida Association of America A nonprofit organization dedicated to publicizing developments in medicine, education, and legislation; supporting research, promoting treatment; and encouraging the training of competent professionals. The Spina Bifida Association of America (SBAA) publishes brochures, reports, and educational videotape programs for parents and health professionals, plus a 3 5-mm slide presentation on the abilities and potential of people with spina bifida. (For contact information, see Appendix I.)

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