How Folic Acid Helps to Prevent Fetal Malformations

How Folic Acid Helps to Prevent Fetal Malformations
Nelton Ramos

Reviewed and approved by the doctor Nelton Ramos.

Last update: 27 December, 2022

When a woman is pregnant, she wants what is best for her baby. Health is a top priority, and every test and checkup is justified. Fortunately, there are simple ways to prevent certain problems. One of them is vitamin B9, also known as folic acid.

For several years now, multiple healthcare institutions around the world have recommended taking folic acid during pregancy. One of these, the World Health Organization, highlights how folic acid helps to prevent fetal malformations.

There are many myths surrounding vitamins and supplements for pregnancy. In the past, some substances were considered to pose a risk. Today, however, things have changed.

Taking folic acid during pregnancy helps your child’s spinal column to develop correctly. This protects the fetus against certain abnormalities, such as spina bifida.

Folic acid also reduces the risk of a cleft lip, cleft palate and certain severe congenital heart problems.

How Folic Acid Helps to Prevent Fetal Malformations

The vitamin that promotes new cell growth

Folic acid is a water-soluble vitamin. It’s part of the B-vitamin complex, which helps the body create new cells.

At the same time, it helps prevent a set of conditions known as neural tube defects, including spina bifida and anencephaly.

Scientific publications such as the Journal of the American Medical Association have published multiple studies on the benefits of folic acid for pregnant women.

This body of research also suggests an association between folic acid intake and a lower risk of other problems, such as speech delay.

All pregnant women should take folic acid

All pregnant women, including those who are in good health, need to take folic acid. This helps the fetus develop correctly. Folic acid also prevents anemia and repairs and protects the functions of the cells and DNA.

A daily intake of this vitamin helps reduce the risk of multiple health issues, including those affecting the central nervous system, heart and limbs, as well as other congenital defects.

The benefits aren’t exclusive to pregnancy, either: scientists have also recently proven that a daily folic acid supplement at a low dosage is capable of reducing the risk of cardiac problems in the general population.

According to the same study, which looked at a broad sample of the population, folic acid intake is an important factor in heart health in women.

Where can I get folic acid?

Folic acid can be found in multiple foods, such as vegetables, fruit, pulses, processed cereals and milk.

It’s also present in smaller quantities in carbohydrate-rich foods such as bread and pasta. However, whether or not you consume these foods, you’ll also need to take a vitamin supplement. Given the benefits for mother and baby, a regular daily dose is highly recommended.

Studies have shown that taking folic acid doesn’t produce any adverse effects. This vitamin supplement can be taken for years without putting the person taking it at any additional risk.

“Making the decision to have a child – it’s momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking outside your body”

-Elizabeth Stone-

Before you begin taking folic acid, speak to your doctor. A healthcare practitioner will be able to tell you how much of this vitamin to take, and how frequently. This is a supplement that you should take before you conceive, as well as during pregnancy.

Experts indicate that a pregnant woman should take around 600 milligrams of folic acid a day. The dosage may vary, however.

Some women are more at risk of having a child with spina bifida, and will need to take a higher dosage.

How Folic Acid Helps to Prevent Fetal Malformations

The pre-pregnancy supplement that reduces the risk of neural tube defects

Taking folic acid supplements when you’re planning to conceive can prevent neural tube defects.

Experts recommend that all women who are trying to get pregnant find out about the benefits of this vitamin. Taking a folic acid supplement is universally recommended up to 12 weeks into pregnancy.

Today, around 500,000 babies a year are born with congenital anomalies.

Even milder malformations may lead to learning disabilities and other problems in later life. Others cause debilitating health problems such as incontinence, digestive issues and cognitive delays.

With this in mind, the goal of health institutions worldwide is to reduce birth defects by 70%. Taking folic acid during pregnancy is one of the best ways to do this.


All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Ácido fólico.Una hoja de datos de la oficina para la salud de la mujer. Preguntas y respuestas. Office of Women’s Health [Disponible en línea].
  • González, A; García, M. Ácido fólico y defectos del tubo neural en atención primaria. MEDIFAM 2003; 13 (4): 305-310. [Disponible en línea].

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.