“Always be Prepared” is a great motto that applies to all women of childbearing age.

In order to receive the full effect of taking folic acid in reducing the risk of neural tube defects like spina bifida and cleft palate, it is recommended that women begin taking the B-9 vitamin 3 to 12 months before becoming pregnant. Doing so can reduce the chances of these birth defects by up to 70%.

Even if you’re not planning on becoming pregnant in the next year, unplanned pregnancies do happen. As of 2013, 45% of all pregnancies in the United States were unintended.

Research has found that unintended pregnancies have been associated with worse health outcomes for children, because the infants of those pregnancies are less likely to receive prenatal care.

For women who are not planning on getting pregnant in the upcoming 12 months, there are other benefits to folic acid you can look forward to before conception including healthier skin, hair and nails. Research has also found links between taking folic acid and the reduced risk of some types of cancer and depression.

Folic acid is available wherever vitamins are sold, so there’s no prescription necessary. Plus, it’s inexpensive at about 16 cents per day. Grab a bottle at your nearest pharmacy or grocery store and make it part of your daily regimen.

While there is not a prescription required, if you have questions about folic acid, feel free to talk to your healthcare provider before taking it.