Women who are trying to conceive should take folic acid to ensure proper fetal brain and spinal cord development in the first few weeks of pregnancy, explains the March of Dimes. Low levels of folic acid during this time period can lead to neural tube defects in the fetus.
All women of childbearing age need 400 micrograms of folic acid per day, and women should start taking folic acid at least one month before conception, recommends the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Microvitamins containing folic acid typically include a sufficient dose. A woman can also get folic acid from fortified, ready-to-eat cereals that contain 100 percent of the daily recommended intake. While many foods contain folic acid, including beans, peanuts, leafy green vegetables, broccoli and citrus fruits, it can be difficult to get enough of this nutrient from food sources, explains the March of Dimes.
Some of the birth defects that folic acid helps prevent include spina bifida, anencephaly and encephalocele, states KidsHealth. Because these defects are caused by improper brain and spinal cord development within the first month of pregnancy and before a pregnancy can be confirmed, folic acid supplementation must be started before conception to be effective. Women who get enough folic acid before conception and during this first month of pregnancy reduce the risk of serious defects in the baby by up to 70 percent.