Folic acid in pregnancy: the first gift you give to your baby

Folic acid is a water-soluble vitamin introduced into the body through food, absorbed in the intestine and stored in the liver. Folic acid is used by the body for cell reproduction; it is involved in the synthesis of DNA, proteins and haemoglobin

“Wishing for a child is a beautiful thing. Protect him now, take folic acid before conception and continue for the first trimester of pregnancy. It’s the first gift you give to your baby.”

Domenica Taruscio, Director of the National Center for Rare Diseases of the ISS.


Folic acid is the first gift to give your child. If you take this vitamin before conception you can reduce the risk of your baby developing serious birth defects by 70%.

In fact, a lack of folic acid can cause the neural tube to fail to close in the embryo, causing serious and permanent damage to the future baby. In fact, the neural tube closes between the 17th and 29th day of conception, when the woman cannot yet have ascertained her pregnancy.

But what are folic acid and folate?

They are B vitamins, also known as vitamin B9. Dietary folates are the compounds present in foods while folic acid is the synthesis molecule or the preparation based on this vitamin that you can find in pharmacies.

To ensure a good supply of folate to our body, follow a diet rich in vegetables, legumes and fruit.

However, power alone is not enough. This vitamin, in fact, although present in abundance in green leafy vegetables such as broccoli, asparagus, spinach, lettuce, or legumes such as beans, chickpeas, or in fruit such as oranges, kiwis and even dried fruit, has a reduced bioavailability.

This means that when you keep them at room temperature and when you cook them, these vitamins can be significantly reduced. For this vitamin to have the demonstrated effectiveness in reducing the risk of neural tube defects by up to 70%, it is therefore necessary to integrate the intake of folate with a supplementation of folic acid in pills which must necessarily start at least one month before conception.

In anticipation of a pregnancy, the folic acid prescribed by the doctor is offered free of charge by the national health system. To ensure its effectiveness, stick to the recommended quantities and methods of intake. If you are planning a pregnancy or do not rule out the possibility, here are three simple tips:

  1. follow a balanced diet with foods rich in folate. Therefore, try to consume at least 5 portions of fruit and vegetables every day, some whole grains, 2 weekly portions of legumes and, occasionally, dried fruit;
  2. take at least 0.4 mg of folic acid a day, and remember that the action of this vitamin is effective when taken at least 30 days before pregnancy begins and for the first three months.
  3. if you have had a previous abortion or any other risk conditions such as a child with congenital malformations, malabsorption disease, diabetes, celiac disease, if you are taking antiepileptic drugs, if you are on other therapies or are very overweight, talk to your doctor; you may in fact need a higher dosage. Up to 4 or 5 mg per day, and particularly careful monitoring during the first trimester of pregnancy.

Katherine Johnson, M.D., is a board-certified obstetrician-gynecologist with clinical expertise in general obstetrics and gynecology, family planning, women’s health, and gynecology.

She is affiliated with the Obstetrics and Gynecology division at an undisclosed healthcare institution and the online platform,

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