A recent study found that mothers who consumed folic acid from 4 weeks before pregnancy to 8 weeks after the start of pregnancy had a lower risk of having a child with autistic disorder, compared with mothers who did not take folic acid. The study included about 85,000 women who had children between 2002 and 2008.

The FDA already recommends that women of childbearing age consume 400mcg of folic acid per day. Mandated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 1998, folic acid is a key nutrient found in enriched grain foods, like white bread, because of its role in helping prevent birth defects. Folic acid helps new cells grow and develop, which is why it’s crucial for all women of childbearing age to consume enough folic acid. A baby’s brain and spinal cord are formed in the first few weeks of pregnancy, often before a woman even realizes she’s pregnant; this timing underscores the importance of proper nutrition even for women who aren’t planning a pregnancy, especially considering approximately half of all pregnancies in this country are unplanned.

Since the FDA required fortification of enriched grains, the number of babies born in the US with neural tube birth defects (such as spina bifida) has decreased by approximately one-third. Because of this, the CDC recently ranked folic acid fortification of enriched grains as one of the top ten public health achievements of the first decade of the 21st century.

Research Study Source: http://jama.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=1570279
Other Information from The Grain Foods Foundation