Health Canada recommends that pregnant women take a folic acid supplement of 0.4 mg daily (the amount included in PRENATAL MULTIVITAMINS). In fact, it is recommended to take a prenatal multivitamin daily, ideally as early as three months before the beginning of pregnancy (preconception) until the end of pregnancy.
Meanwhile, the Obstetricians and Gynaecologists Society of Canada recommends to continue taking the supplement for 4 to 6 months after pregnancy or for the duration of breastfeeding.
Folic acid, or vitamin B9, contributes to the development of blood cells, brain and nervous system. This vitamin plays an important role in the prevention of neural tube defects in the fetus; the latter may occur in the brain, skull or spine. Spina bifida is one of those defects. It is caused by a defect in the closing of the neural tube that can cause physical disabilities or significant mental impairments in newborns.
Vitamin B9 is in the form of folate in foods and in the form of folic acid in supplements. In addition to a balanced diet, folate-rich foods should be eaten daily by pregnant women as well as by all women of childbearing age, knowing that not all pregnancies are planned.
Folate is found primarily in dark green leafy vegetables (spinach, broccoli, etc.), legumes (lentils, chickpeas, etc.), enriched flour and pasta (made in Canada and the United States) and orange fruits. The following table from Dietitians of Canada shows the main sources of folate in food.
Folic acid needs are greater during pregnancy and lactation. Thus, the intake of folic acid through diet is often not sufficient to meet these needs and women must be supplemented with folic acid via a prenatal multivitamin to provide maximum protection against the risk of neural tube defects.
It should be noted that some women may need an even higher dose of folic acid. This is discussed in the next edition.