Folic acid is one of the most important vitamins a pregnant woman needs for normal development of the fetus. Folic acid is the synthetic form of vitamin B9 available via a supplement. Folate, on the other hand, is the naturally occurring form of vitamin B9. Vitamin B9 is responsible for DNA replication, amino acid synthesis and the metabolism of many vitamins.

For the fetus, vitamin B9 is necessary for the growth and development of its systems and organs. This is especially important during the laying of the neural tube, with studies showing that a folic acid deficiency can lead to congenital malformations of the fetus, such as neural tube defects. Vitamin B9 deficiency can also adversely affect the woman herself, leading to anemia or peripheral neuropathy (a form of nerve damage). Studies also show that folic acid supplementation is associated with lower risk of developing preeclampsia and premature birth or miscarriage.

Foods containing a high amount of folate (the naturally occurring form of vitamin B9) include spinach, avocado, beef liver, wholemeal, broccoli and dairy drinks. However, the amount of vitamin B9 occurring in food is usually not enough for pregnant women. Consult your healthcare provider for advice on the right supplement for you, as this is the best way to ensure you are reaching the recommended intake.