Doctors recommend that all women planning a pregnancy should take 400mcg of folic acid daily to protect their unborn babies from Neural Tube Defects (NTDs) like spina bifida and anencephaly.
These severe disabilities occur in the first 28 days of pregnancy. Getting enough folic acid at this time is vital because it helps your baby's brain and spinal cord to develop correctly. If you are planning a pregnancy, it's important that you start to take folic acid before you get pregnant, to build up the amount you have in your blood. If you take Folic acid as recommended (ideally for at least 3 months before you conceive until the 12th week of your pregnancy) it can reduce the chances of your baby being affected by an NTD by up to 72%.
What is folic acid?
Folic acid is a form of vitamin B9, folate, which is found naturally in food. It's needed to help make new cells and for growth, which is why it's so important for making babies.
I eat a healthy diet isn't that enough?
Your body needs around twice as much folic acid as normal to support a developing baby, and it's very difficult to get this amount just from the food that you eat. This is why doctors recommend that women planning a pregnancy take a 400mcg supplement of folic acid every day as well as eating a healthy balanced diet, including foods rich in folate. It's the best way to make sure you are getting enough to protect your baby!
Foods rich in folate include spinach, kale, green beans, peas, chickpeas, broccoli, pulses, yeast extract, bananas, oranges (including orange juice), wholegrain and granary bread and fortified breakfast cereals.
How much folic acid do I need?
Most women need a daily tablet containing 400mcg of folic acid, either as a single supplement or part of a multivitamin. However, some women do have an increased risk of having a baby with an NTD, and will need a higher dose of 5mg. This higher dose is only available on prescription, so it's important to speak to your GP if: Either you or your partner have an NTD, or a family history of NTDs. You have diabetes. You are taking medication for epilepsy. You have coeliac disease. You are very overweight (ie. You have a BMI over 30).
What if I'm already pregnant?
If you're still in the early stages of pregnancy, then you should start taking folic acid straight away and continue until the 12th week of your pregnancy. Try not to worry if you're more than 12 weeks pregnant and haven't taken folic acid. It's important to remember that most babies are born healthy, so the chances of your baby being born with an NTD are still slim, but if you are at all concerned, you should talk to your doctor.
For more information or advice about folic acid please go to www.gofolic.co.uk or call 01733 555988.