What Happens If You Don't Get Enough Folic Acid During Pregnancy?

As a blossoming new mother, it's not uncommon for a pregnant woman to have concerns about what they should put into their bodies during their pregnancy. After all, they are now responsible for protecting the health of their unborn child in addition to their own. If you are currently pregnant or trying to conceive, WebMD explains that an obstetrician (also known as an OB-GYN) can provide you with professional advice on the right diet and supplements for you and your child.

Folic acid, in particular, is a synthetic form of vitamin B9 and is essential to the development of healthy cells in the body. It's a vitamin that everyone needs, but is especially important for pregnant women (per MedlinePlus). It's suggested that women take 400 micrograms of folic acid daily, even before they become pregnant, as explained by the U.K.'s National Health Service.

Besides being available in supplement form, the nutrient can also be found in foods such as fruit and leafy green vegetables, dried beans, peas, and nuts, or enriched grain products such as breads and cereals. The NHS shares that folic acid is so important to the health of a woman and her baby that supplements are also given to women who are trying to become pregnant.

If a pregnant woman doesn't receive enough folic acid, there can be serious consequences for her expected child, so adhering to your doctor's suggestions can help to ensure optimal health for you and your developing baby. 

The consequences of not getting enough folic acid during pregnancy

Because folic acid is critical to the development of new red blood cells, a deficiency in the nutrient can come with severe repercussions, explains the Office on Women's Health. Specifically, not getting enough folic acid can result in folate-deficiency anemia, which is more common in women of reproductive age than in men.

The Office on Women's Health explains that consuming the recommended amount of folic acid also has considerable benefits for an unborn baby, as it decreases the risk of being born with neural tube defects. These are serious birth defects that happen when the neural tube that forms a baby's developing brain and spine is unable to close properly, as described by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

The Office on Women's Health reports that the consumption of enough folic acid may also decrease the risk of miscarriage, and recommends that all women get at least 400 micrograms of folic acid each day even if they are not planning to become pregnant, as many pregnancies are unplanned. However, some women may need more than 400 micrograms. For example, CDC guidelines suggest that women who have had a previous pregnancy affected by a neural tube defect should consume 4,000 micrograms of folic acid daily, beginning one month before conception and during the first three months of their pregnancy. It's crucial to speak with your primary care doctor and OB-GYN and carefully comply with their recommendations that are specific to you.