Benefits of taking folic acid before pregnancy

Taking folic acid when planning a pregnancy will help your baby’s healthy growth and development.

Folic acid is a vitamin (B9). It is found in certain foods and it can also be taken as tablets.

If you’re planning to have a baby, it’s important that you take folic acid tablets for two to three months before you conceive. This allows it to build up in your body to a level that gives the most protection to your future baby against neural tube defects, such as spina bifida.

As you could get pregnant within a month of trying, it is ideal to start taking folic acid tablets two months before you stop contraception. If you have already stopped contraception, that’s OK, start taking it now and until week 12 of pregnancy.

You can also try to eat more foods that contain folate, which is the natural form of folic acid. However, even a healthy diet does not have enough folic acid for pregnancy so taking folic acid tablets is very important.

If you end up taking folic acid tablets for far longer than two to three months this is perfectly OK and not harmful. 

Are you ready to conceive? Use our tool to find out.

Why should I take folic acid?

If you have the right level of folic acid in your body before you get pregnant, it reduces the risk of the baby developing neural tube defects by up to 70%. Neural tube defects are problems with the brain or spinal cord, including spina bifida.

Spina bifida is not common but it can cause a wide range of problems for the baby, including:

  • problems with movement
  • bladder and bowel problems
  • learning difficulties.

How much folic acid should I take?

Most women are advised to take a 400mcg supplement every day. You can get these from most pharmacies, supermarkets, and health food shops. Your GP may also be able to prescribe them to you.

You can also get folic acid in some pregnancy multivitamin tablets. If you do, make sure the tablet does not contain vitamin A. High doses of vitamin A can cause developmental problems in the first three months of pregnancy.

You can also try to eat foods that contain folate. These include:

  • broccoli
  • brussels sprouts
  • spinach
  • asparagus
  • peas
  • chickpeas
  • fortified breakfast cereals.

Eating foods high in folate alone will not be enough to give the best protection to the baby so it is important to take the tablet too.

Some people need a higher dose of folic acid

If you have a higher risk of having a pregnancy affected by neural tube defects you will be advised to take a higher dose of 5mg folic acid.

You may have a higher risk if:

  • you have diabetes
  • you or your partner have a neural tube defect
  • you have had a previous pregnancy affected by a neural tube defect
  • you or your partner have a family history of neural tube defects
  • you have epilepsy
  • you are a heavy drinker.

To get a higher dose talk to your doctor because 5mg tablets aren’t available without a prescription.

Where do I get folic acid?

Folic acid can be found in lots of branded pre-pregnancy vitamins. These are not harmful but can sometimes be expensive. It is often cheaper to buy folic acid separately rather than buying expensive branded supplements.

Do not take vitamin A supplements or any supplements containing vitamin A, such as liver or fish oil. High doses of Vitamin A can cause developmental problems in the first three months of pregnancy.

If you receive certain benefits or are under 18 you may be eligible for free vitamins when you become pregnant.

Healthy Start

Healthy Start is a UK-wide scheme that provides free vitamins, including folic acid. You also get free weekly vouchers for milk, plain fresh and frozen fruit and vegetables and infant formula milk.

You qualify if you are on benefits and:

  • you are at least 10 weeks pregnant
  • have children under the age of four

All pregnant women under the age of 18 qualify – whether they are on benefits or not.

To find out more and apply visit Healthy Start or call 0345 607 6823

I think I’m already pregnant but haven’t been taking folic acid. What do I do?

Don’t worry, the risk of problems is small. Start taking folic acid now and until week 12 if you have not reached it yet. You don’t need to take after 12 weeks folic acid (though it is not harmful) as the neural tube will have fully developed. You can talk to your GP or midwife if you have any concerns.

I’ve been trying to get pregnant but haven’t been taking folic acid supplements. Should I stop trying to conceive?

Ideally, you should take folic acid supplements for two to three months before you conceive and until you are 12 weeks pregnant.

But try not to worry if you haven’t started taking the supplements yet and start taking it now. You can talk to your GP or midwife if you have any concerns.

Sources

1. Sue Macdonald, Gail Johnson, Mayes’ Midwifery. (Edinburgh: Baillir̈e Tindall Elsevier, 2017), p 312.

2. NHS Choices (accessed 01/04/2018) Why do I need folic acid in pregnancy? Page last reviewed: 16/03/2016 Next review due: 16/03/2018 https://www.nhs.uk/chq/pages/913.aspx?categoryid=54

3. NHS Choices (accessed 01/04/2018) Spina bifida Page last reviewed: 04/05/2017 Next review due: 04/05/2020  www.nhs.uk/conditions/spina-bifida

4. NHS Choices (accessed 01/04/2018) Vitamins and minerals Page last reviewed: 03/03/2017 Next review due: 03/03/2020  https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/vitamins-and-minerals/vitamin-b/#folic-acid

 

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    Last reviewed on June 5th, 2018. Next review date June 5th, 2021.

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    Comments

    Please note that these comments are monitored but not answered by Tommy’s. Please call your GP or maternity unit if you have concerns about your health or your baby’s health.
    • By N/a (not verified) on 31 Oct 2019 - 13:36

      Hi i hav irregular periods n trying to conceive what can i do i left the pill last year march n been trying bt no success plz advise

    • By Cherry Watt (not verified) on 5 Oct 2019 - 15:54

      Is it possible being on conception for like about 8-9 months and decided of coming off completely as, i want to go for another baby I've been off for about over 1 month now but, I've been having my cycle for about 2 or 3 times now so, can this mess with your cycle(body) and fertility?

    • By Sylvia (not verified) on 4 Oct 2019 - 15:10

      I use nuristrate injection for 5yrs, now i need a baby, my first born is 7yrs, can folic acid help me conceive

    • By Isel (not verified) on 24 Sep 2019 - 18:39

      My doctor prescribe me with the folic acid vitamins to get my body for pregnancy has anyone took them and how long did they take to be pregnant. I want more information how it can help me

    • By Noni (not verified) on 18 Sep 2019 - 11:31

      Can people help me I want to fall pregnant

    • By Mimi (not verified) on 6 Sep 2019 - 11:36

      I am 8 weeks pregnant.can i start using folic acid since i didn’t take before getting pregnant

    • By Nkechi obiagwu Alice (not verified) on 19 Aug 2019 - 12:38

      I had fibroid operation last month can I take folic acid

    • By Nikki (not verified) on 15 Oct 2019 - 02:29

      Folic acid

    • By Sally (not verified) on 1 Aug 2019 - 21:03

      Taking folic acid for a month skip it and continuing taking it . is it idea for one to get pregnant at n for miscarriage after 5 months

    • By Dudu Dube (not verified) on 28 Jul 2019 - 02:14

      Can folic acid make you constipated?
      I've been taking Pregnavit but now I'm forever constipated

    • By Chidiebere (not verified) on 16 Jul 2019 - 18:30

      I had miscarriage last year August, and since then I have been trying to conceive without success. What do I do

    • By Cindy (not verified) on 19 Aug 2019 - 08:59

      I gave birth February 2016 through CS nd I lost d child, since then I have been trying to conceive but is not coming forth. Wht should I do?

    • By Sinalo (not verified) on 10 Jul 2019 - 21:38

      Hi I am 29 years now and I’ve had a miscarriage before, me and my partner we’ been trying to conceive but I’m not falling pregnant I missed my periods for June I thought I was pregnant and I bought a pregnancy test it showed it’s negative and we in the second week of July and got my periods I don’t what going on with my body coz it’s the second time this is happening, but I want to fall pregnant I’ve been taking preg omega

    • By Rita (not verified) on 4 Jul 2019 - 08:53

      Can someone with fibroid take folic acid trying to concieve

    • By TRICIA JOHN (not verified) on 19 Jun 2019 - 20:01

      I HAVE HAD ABORTION FOR LIKE FOUR TIMES AND SINCE THEN I FIND SO DIFFICULT TO CONCEIVE AND I AM TIERD OF SPENDING MONEY HERE AND THERE PLEASE CAN FOLIC ACID HELP ME OUT

    • By Bridget (not verified) on 28 Jun 2019 - 20:29

      i have try getting pregnant but is not coming should i use the folic acid becouse i wont to get serious pregnant

    • By Ifeoluwa ocia (not verified) on 4 Aug 2019 - 11:48

      Same issue

    • By Clara (not verified) on 12 Nov 2019 - 03:38

      How can you advise me

    • By Linda (not verified) on 17 Jun 2019 - 14:52

      I started taking it for two months and am pregnant now, should i stop and continue taking it after three months months of pregnancy or what's the dosage?

    • By Ivy Stella Gu (not verified) on 11 Jun 2019 - 13:19

      Iam 46yrs can pregnacare before conception can make me pregnant?

    • By Yemisi (not verified) on 6 Aug 2019 - 21:02

      can pregnacare conception make 46years pregnant

    • By Grace (not verified) on 14 May 2019 - 14:11

      Please can I continue to take the foic acid tablet during menses in preparation for conception .

    • By Jhea (not verified) on 11 May 2019 - 10:50

      Hi! I need your help please.I just buy folic acid now but this Maxifol 5000 and 5mg.I am worried if it is right dossages that I brought.I have 14 years old boy I really want to have a baby again its been a long time ago.please help me.Thanks!

    • By lolo (not verified) on 11 Jun 2019 - 13:08

      we are in the same page here jhea ,my boy is 12 years now and I really want another baby now, I visit the pharmacist and I was told to use folic acid as well so I am on my second moth now taking 500mg everyday..i am super excited for this journey

    • By Lizzy George (not verified) on 10 May 2019 - 18:42

      I am 28, and have never be pregnant in my life I want to be pregnant now what will I do?

    • By Aliyah (not verified) on 3 Sep 2019 - 13:17

      start seeing the gynecologist, they will conduct a series of test to check your fertility level and you can take it up from there. Good Luck

    • By Jane (not verified) on 7 May 2019 - 09:41

      Tes years of wanting

    • By Rita (not verified) on 16 Aug 2019 - 07:11

      I have sex but no pregnancy

    • By Jane (not verified) on 7 May 2019 - 09:31

      My husband is not active in sex, what can you do to help him.

    • By Lauren (not verified) on 30 Apr 2019 - 17:43

      I had two CS and since then I have never been pregnant . can I start taking folic acid?

    • By Linda (not verified) on 14 Mar 2019 - 00:24

      Hey. I have been using nurstrate for five years I stopped last December. Actually last December I didn't go to my appointment. Now I really want to get pregnant. Can folic acid help me? Please help am desperate

    • By Anonymous (not verified) on 12 Mar 2019 - 10:37

      Am a frist timer I used to miss my period for 5to 7 days then see it again what can I do

    • By saratu Sani (not verified) on 12 Mar 2019 - 09:43

      pls i miscarriage 2 times, waht i plannin now?

    • By Phindi (not verified) on 11 Mar 2019 - 11:52

      Hi
      i have a child she's 15 years now.
      i got miscarriage while trying to have second baby 8years back and until now I've been struggling to be pregnant again so what to do?

    • By Midwife @Tommys on 15 Mar 2019 - 13:21

      Hi,
      If you have been trying to conceive for longer than a year I would suggest to see your GP for a review.
      Best wishes
      Tommy's midwife

    • By ekima (not verified) on 22 Mar 2019 - 23:37

      i need help

    • By Rita (not verified) on 16 Aug 2019 - 07:07

      I have been having sex for long but I can't conceive

    • By Supriya (not verified) on 28 Feb 2019 - 14:31

      Hi, I have undergone to endometriosis..then tries for IVF in dec 2017 since docter said I cannot conceive naturally but it was unsuccessful...so can I take these tablets n will it help me to conceive naturally??

    • By Derin (not verified) on 20 Feb 2019 - 09:41

      When can I start taking folic acid after a week miscarriage.

    • By Midwife @Tommys on 21 Feb 2019 - 14:07

      Hi Derin, Thank you for your comment.

      We are sorry to hear about your recent miscarriage, this must be a very difficult time for you. If you are planning another pregnancy straight away then you can start taking your folic acid when you want. It is better to start taking this before conception. Hope this helps, Take Care, Tommy's Midwives x

    • By Queen (not verified) on 31 Jan 2019 - 21:21

      I want to have a baby can i start taking folic acide now?

    • By Midwife @Tommys on 1 Feb 2019 - 10:27

      Dear Queen,
      We would advise for you to be taking folic acid for about two months prior to conception where possible, and then for the first trimester of pregnancy.
      Best wishes
      Tommy's midwife

    • By Blessing Kefas (not verified) on 12 Feb 2019 - 06:42

      pls I want to bee pregnant what will I do

    • By ThAbisile khumAlo (not verified) on 22 Jan 2019 - 11:28

      Thanks guys for supporting us,for our different problems and give solutions godbless you guys

    • By Rukelly (not verified) on 20 Jan 2019 - 18:11

      Please i am 11 weeks pregnant now and I took folic acid for a week plus when my pregnancy was 7weeks and stopped. Please is there any side effect for skipping the folic acid?

    • By Midwife @Tommys on 25 Jan 2019 - 15:40

      Hi Rukelly,
      All pregnant women are advised to take folic acid before and during the first trimester of pregnancy as this is known to significantly reduce the risk of the baby developing neural tube defects such as spina bifida. The overall risk is still low however, so please try not to worry. You will have scans which will look at your baby's development.
      Best wishes
      Tommy's midwife

    • By semira (not verified) on 12 Mar 2019 - 20:06

      my dear I hope everything goes well with your pregnancy because I was unable to concive for 5years when I eventually did I didn't take folic acid seriously because I always reacted to it so I always vomitted after labor for five days I gave birth to a baby with spinal bafida twisted legs big head one hand longer than the other no testis he went back immediately... please at 10-12 weeks go for scan to see the development of the baby if it is forming properly no probs if not u can operate it or flush it out ...I am pregnant again I started immediately I lost d baby and won't stop till after 3months I will be going for scan to determine if mine is properly from n if there are no abnormalities ....my dear keep ur fingers crossed and do as I say to avoid stories ok good luck sis

    • By Midwife @Tommys on 17 Jan 2019 - 11:49

      Folic acid is a vitamin (B9). It is found in certain foods and it can also be taken as tablets.
      There are 2 different types of folic acid supplements which vary on the doasge. Most women are advised to take a 400mcg supplement every day. You can get these from most pharmacies, supermarkets, and health food shops. Your GP may also be able to prescribe them to you.
      f you have a higher risk of having a pregnancy affected by neural tube defects you will be advised to take a higher dose of 5mg folic acid.

      You may have a higher risk if:

      you have diabetes
      you or your partner have a neural tube defect
      you have had a previous pregnancy affected by a neural tube defect
      you or your partner have a family history of neural tube defects
      you have epilepsy
      you are a heavy drinker.
      To get a higher dose talk to your doctor because 5mg tablets aren’t available without a prescription.

    • By Lizzy Nabi (not verified) on 17 Jan 2019 - 06:00

      Please how many types of folic acid do we have?

    • By Holly Green (not verified) on 10 Jan 2019 - 12:31

      Also need to take 5mg folic acid if your BMI is >30

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