Prenatal vitamins are chock-full of nutrients needed to support a growing baby, and folic acid is the most important one for brain development because it reduces the risk of spina bifida and other neurological problems. That’s why the March of Dimes recommends all women of childbearing age take 400 micrograms of folic acid daily to ensure there’s plenty of it available in your body when you actually do get pregnant.
“The brain is getting going right at the very beginning (of pregnancy),” says David Moore, Ph.D., head of the Claremont Infant Study Center at Pitzer College in Claremont, Calif. “Before baby gets a heart or bones, he has the makings of a nervous system. So it's very important for women considering conceiving to be taking folic acid.”
Popping prenatal vitamins long before you become pregnant can also help reduce your risk of preterm birth, according to a 2009 study in the journal PLoS Medicine. Preterm birth increases the risk of cognitive delays, so anything that helps keeping baby cooking as long as possible is a good thing for her brain.
But don’t worry if you’re already pregnant and haven’t taken folic acid yet. The nutrient is added to nearly all cereal, pasta, rice and flour sold in the U.S. as a way of reducing birth defects. But do start taking your prenatal now, so you’ll get the benefits of all the other nutrients in it, too.