According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 3 percent of babies born in the United States [each year] are affected by birth defects. Roughly 1,200 U.S. pregnancies are affected by anencephaly and 1,500 babies are born with spina bifida each year.

One of the best ways of helping prevent neural tube defects is by taking Folic Acid supplements. The B-vitamin supplement significantly reduces the risk of brain and spine defects like spina bifida and anencephaly in babies. The U.S. Public Health Service says “Folic Acid supplementation prevents about 1,300 annual births from being affected by neural tube defects.”

One easy way for women to increase folate intake is with their diet. Folic acid is present naturally in dark leafy green vegetables, legumes, and oranges. In the U.S. there was a program started in the 1990s to fortify cereal grains with folic acid. However, eating to boost folate alone isn’t enough for expectant moms.

According to a recent report from the U.S. Preventative Services Task Force (USPSTF), American women aren’t getting the recommended amount of daily folic acid from their food. In a recent report published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, the USPSTF said that upon review, scientists have found that “most women in the United States are not consuming fortified foods in a quantity needed to demonstrate optimal benefit.”

The USPSTF recommends all women capable of or planning pregnancy, to take a daily supplement containing 400 to 800 micrograms (mcg) of folic acid.

Research has shown that less than one-third of U.S. women of childbearing age take a daily folic acid supplement.

The USPSTF concludes their recommendation stating “with high certainty” that the benefits of taking 400 to 800 mcg of folic acid daily are substantial. It’s recommended that women planning a pregnancy begin taking folic acid at least one month before getting pregnant to receive the full benefits of supplement.