Folic acid, also known as folate, is a B-vitamin that can be found in some enriched foods and vitamin pills. If women have enough of it in their bodies before pregnancy, this vitamin can decrease the risk for neural tube defects (NTDs), which are birth defects of the baby^s brain (anencephaly) or spine (spina bifida).

For many women, an easy way to be sure you^re getting enough folic acid is to take a vitamin with folic acid in it. The U.S. Public Health Service recommends that all women who could possibly become pregnant get 400 micrograms (or 0.4 mg) of folic acid every day. This could prevent up to 70% of some types of serious birth defects. 

No one expects an unplanned pregnancy. But they happen - every day. In fact, about half of all pregnancies are not planned. That^s why you should get enough folic acid every day if there^s any chance you could get pregnant.  Because by the time you know you^re pregnant, your baby^s brain and spine are already formed.

Women at increased risk for spina bifida should take 4000 micrograms (mcg) of folic acid by prescription for 1 to 3 months before becoming pregnant. (This amount is also written as 4.0 milligrams (mg).)

Many things can affect a baby, including family genes and things women may come in contact with during pregnancy. Taking folic acid cannot guarantee having a healthy baby, but it can help.

For more information on folic acid, visit the National Council on Folic Acid website.