Today’s women are very busy with careers, being soccer moms, and caregivers. We know we should exercise, eat right and get quality sleep. But sometimes we are moving so quickly that our own health comes last. One of the keys to a strong and resilient state is a good diet, especially when planning a pregnancy.

According to the Center for Disease, Control and Prevention, half of all pregnancies in the U. S. are unplanned. The fifth week of pregnancy is critical to the health of the fetus as the brain; spinal cord and heart are beginning to develop. Knowing this, it is critical that women maintain their health by ensuring vitamins like folic acid is included in their daily nutritional plan.

Folic acid is a B vitamin essential to the growth of new cells, such as skin, hair and nails. Folic acid is also important in the prevention of some major neural tube birth defects of the brain and spine such as anencephaly and spina bifida. Anencephaly is an underdeveloped brain and an incomplete skull. A baby born with anencephaly might be stillborn or survive only a few hours to days after birth. Spina bifida is “when the tissue surrounding a baby’s developing spinal cord doesn’t close properly. Spina bifida can lead to severe physical and mental disabilities (Mayo Clinic).” According to the CDC, each year in the U.S., there are 3,000 cases of anencephaly and spina bifida. The CDC states, 50 to 70 percent of these cases can be prevented if women added 400 mcg of folic acid to their diet, before, during and after pregnancy. Prenatal vitamins contain the daily value of folic acid and will assist with nutritional gaps during pregnancy. If you have a history of neural tube birth defect, you should see your primary care provider before getting pregnant, as you will need a higher dose of folic acid than the DV.

The U.S. Public Health Service and CDC urge women between the ages of 15 and 45 to take folic acid daily. To receive the best protective benefits, folic acid should be taken one month before planning to get pregnant. Folic acid is found in many foods to include fortified cereals. Go to http://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/folicacide/cereals.html to find a list of breakfast cereals that contain 100 percent of the DV of folic acid. Not all breakfast cereals provide 100 percent of the DV of folic acid, so read food labels carefully. Since it is hard to know if you are getting enough folic acid in your diet, you should take a supplement every day along with eating a balanced diet that includes folate. Folate is the natural form of the B vitamin folic acid found in some foods such as leafy, dark green vegetables, citrus fruits and juices and beans.

You can find folic acid in your local grocer and pharmacy along with other specialty vitamin supplement stores. Remember 400 mcg is the daily recommendation. If you have trouble taking pills, folic acid comes in many forms to include chewable, chocolate or fruit flavors, liquids, large and small pills. Folic acid is good for you and your future child. Since many women are not aware at first when they are pregnant, protect your child by incorporating folic acid as part of your daily diet. Check out http://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Folate-HealthProfessional/#h3 to find foods high in folate.