To reduce your baby's risk of developing a neural tube defect, experts recommend that you take 400 micrograms (mcg) of folic acid per day, beginning at least a month before you start trying to get pregnant.
In fact, because half of the pregnancies in the United States are unplanned, the CDC, the U.S. Public Health Service, the March of Dimes, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), and other experts strongly recommend that all women of childbearing age get 400 mcg of folic acid every day.
Some groups, such as the U.S. National Institutes of Health, suggest boosting your intake to at least 600 mcg daily once you're pregnant.
The neural tube—from which your baby's spine and brain develop – begins to form about three weeks after conception, so it's critical to get a sufficient daily dose of folic acid before conception and during the first trimester of pregnancy.
Check the label of your multivitamin supplement to be sure you're getting enough. If you're not, you can switch brands or take folic acid separately. (Never double up on your multivitamins.)
If you're taking prescription prenatal vitamins, they probably contain 800 to 1,000 mcg of folic acid. Again, check the label.
Don't take more than 1,000 mcg per day of folic acid unless your healthcare provider advises you to. This is particularly important if you are a vegan. Vegans are at risk of being deficient in vitamin B12 and taking too much folic acid would make it hard to diagnose that deficiency.