Folic Acid During Pregnancy & Breastfeeding

by on May 4, 2012


Folic acid is an extremely important vitamin for women who are pregnant, plan to become pregnant or are breastfeeding.  Pregnant women are advised to take at least 600 mcg of folic acid each day throughout their pregnancy, and many prenatal vitamins contain as much as 1000 mcg.  Breastfeeding women should consume at least 500 mcg daily. Since this vitamin is so essential to a safe and healthy pregnancy, you should talk to your doctor right away if you experience any allergies or other adverse side effects that might prevent you from taking adequate supplements.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration classifies folic acid as a Pregnancy Category A medication which means that it is safe for pregnant women as well as for the unborn child. Adequate and well controlled studies on pregnant women have failed to show that this taking this vitamin supplement increases the risk of fetal abnormalities if taken during pregnancy. However, some medical experts suggest that folic acid supplements, especially high doses, should be taken during pregnancy only if there is a clear need. Usually, prenatal supplements are fortified with folic acid.

In fact, folic acid is highly recommended not just for pregnant women but to all women of childbearing age. This vitamin is well recognized for its role in the prevention of neural tube defects (birth defects characterized by malformations of the brain and spine such as anencephaly and spina bifida). It is further suggested that pregnant women or those planning to be become pregnant should take a daily dose of at least 400 mcg. The U.S. Centers of Disease Control (CDC) recommend that women who have history of giving birth to an infant with neural tube defect take 4 mg/day of folic acid supplement at least 4 weeks before conception through the first trimester (first 3 months) of pregnancy. Pregnancy increases the body’s demand for folic acid, especially during the first trimester. Folic acid deficiency during pregnancy increases the risk of fetal harm.


Folic acid can be safely taken while breastfeeding. In fact, many healthcare providers recommend that breastfeeding women continue to take folic acid supplements. Majority of pregnant women recognize of the importance of taking folic acid during pregnancy. However, not all women are aware that they also need more while breastfeeding.

Breastfeeding women are advised to take at least 500 mcg of folic acid per day. Although the average American diet may be able to meet the recommended amount of folic acid, taking folic acid supplements can help ensure constant supply of this vitamin. Usually, folic acid is available in multivitamin preparations and prenatal vitamins. Since folic acid is water soluble and is easily excreted into the urine, it should be constantly supplied to the body through diet and taking supplements.

Studies show that folic acid is passed into the breast milk although it is unlikely to cause adverse effects on the breastfed child. Infants exposed to folic acid through breast milk have not shown any problems. The American Academy of Pediatrics classifies folic acid as “compatible with breast-feeding”.

If you are breastfeeding, be sure to consult your healthcare provider before taking any health supplement including folic acid. Every woman is in a different situation and your healthcare provider is in the best position to give you recommendation. Discuss with your healthcare provider use of prenatal vitamins and folic acid supplements.