map of chemical compounds with chemical going into test tube

Folate and neural tube development

Even when Baby is as small as a pea, she still has needs...folate needs. The neural tube, the precursor to her brain and central nervous system, closes around Week 6, thanks in no small part to folate.

What is the neural tube?

The neural tube develops along Baby's tiny little back during the first few weeks after conception, and generally closes sometime during Week 6. The neural tube forms the basis for what eventually will become her brain, spinal cord, and entire central nervous system.

Why is folate so important?

Folate, known as folic acid in its synthetic form, is part of the B-vitamin group, and helps facilitate the growth of new cells. Folate is also critical to help the neural tube close, which then begins the proper central nervous system development. If the neural tube doesn't completely close, a baby could develop a serious complication, known as a neural tube defect (NTD). The impacts of different neural tube defects vary greatly, but most are quite serious. The importance of folate in preventing neural tube defects is so great that the United States now requires bread and other grains to be fortified with the nutrient.

How do you get the needed folate/folic acid?

Most providers recommend that women begin taking folic acid supplements at least a month before conceiving. The minimum amount recommended in pregnancy is 400 mcg, although most providers recommend closer to 1000 mcg. You'll probably get most of this in your prenatal vitamin. Other great sources of folic acid and folate include enriched grains, leafy greens, and avocado. So long as you take your prenatal vitamin and maintain a well-balanced diet, most women have no problem with getting enough folate and folic acid, though some may require more. You should talk to your provider about how much is right for you.

Reviewed by Dr. Jamie Lo
Read more
  • Sir John Dewhurst. Dewhurst's Textbook of Obstetrics and Gynecology. 8th ed. Keith Edmonds. John Wiley and Sons Ltd, 2012. Print.
  • "Nutrition During Pregnancy: FAQ001." ACOG. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, 4/15/2015. Web.
  • "Folic Acid & Birth Defects." Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, January 5 2015. Web.
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