The U.S. Public Health Service recommends that all women get 400 micrograms of folic acid every day during their childbearing years to reduce the risk of birth defects called neural tube defects. Spina bifida and anencephaly are the most common neural tube defects. In spina bifida, the spinal cord and nervous system tissue may protrude through an opening in the spinal column resulting from failure of the vertebrae to form normally. Children with spina bifida may have varying degrees of disability
including paralysis, and bowel and bladder incontinence. Babies with anencephaly do not develop a brain and are stillborn or die shortly after birth.
Neural tube defects occur during the first month of pregnancy before most women know they are pregnant. That's why it's important for women to get adequate folate throughout their childbearing years. Then, if a woman gets pregnant, her risk of having a baby with a serious defect of the brain or spinal cord is reduced.
Breakfast cereals fortified with folic acid (the synthetic form of folate) and orange juice are the best food sources of folate.
Having fortified cereal and orange juice every day as well as other foods high in folate on a regular basis will help you get enough folate. Other foods high in folate include legumes such as kidney beans, black beans,lentils, or split peas and vegetables such as asparagus, broccoli, spinach and other dark green leafy vegetables.
Some foods are labeled as high in folate or folic acid. Read the label to find out how much folate they contain.
Check with your health care provider or a registered dietitian about taking a daily multivitamin supplement if you're not getting at least 400 micrograms of folate each day from the foods you eat.