Having a healthy baby means making sure you're healthy, too. One of the most important things you can do to help prevent serious birth defects in your baby is to get enough folic acid every day — especially before conception and during early pregnancy.

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About folic acid

Folic acid, sometimes called folate, is a B vitamin (B9) found mostly in leafy green vegetables like kale and spinach, orange juice and enriched grains.

Many studies have shown that women who get 400 micrograms (0.4 milligrams) daily before conception and during early pregnancy reduce the risk that their baby will be born with a serious neural tube defect (a birth defect involving incomplete development of the brain and spinal cord) by up to 70 percent.

The most common neural tube defects are:

  • Spina bifida, an incomplete closure of the spinal cord and spinal column
  • Anencephaly, severe underdevelopment of the brain
  • Encephalocele, when brain tissue protrudes out to the skin from an abnormal opening in the skull

All of these defects happen during the first 28 days of pregnancy — usually before a woman even knows she's pregnant.

That's why it's so important for all women of childbearing age to get enough folic acid — not just those who are planning to become pregnant. Only 50 percent of pregnancies are planned, so any woman who could become pregnant should make sure she's getting enough folic acid.

Doctors and scientists still aren't completely sure why folic acid has such a profound effect on the prevention of neural tube defects, but they do know that it's crucial in the development of DNA. As a result, folic acid plays a large role in cell growth and development, as well as tissue formation.

Having a healthy baby means making sure you're healthy, too. One of the most important things you can do to help prevent serious birth defects in your baby is to get enough folic acid every day — especially before conception and during early pregnancy.

About folic acid

Folic acid, sometimes called folate, is a B vitamin (B9) found mostly in leafy green vegetables like kale and spinach, orange juice and enriched grains.

Many studies have shown that women who get 400 micrograms (0.4 milligrams) daily before conception and during early pregnancy reduce the risk that their baby will be born with a serious neural tube defect (a birth defect involving incomplete development of the brain and spinal cord) by up to 70 percent.

The most common neural tube defects are:

  • Spina bifida, an incomplete closure of the spinal cord and spinal column
  • Anencephaly, severe underdevelopment of the brain
  • Encephalocele, when brain tissue protrudes out to the skin from an abnormal opening in the skull

All of these defects happen during the first 28 days of pregnancy — usually before a woman even knows she's pregnant.

That's why it's so important for all women of childbearing age to get enough folic acid — not just those who are planning to become pregnant. Only 50 percent of pregnancies are planned, so any woman who could become pregnant should make sure she's getting enough folic acid.

Doctors and scientists still aren't completely sure why folic acid has such a profound effect on the prevention of neural tube defects, but they do know that it's crucial in the development of DNA. As a result, folic acid plays a large role in cell growth and development, as well as tissue formation.

This content originally appeared on KidsHealth.org.