When should I start taking folic acid?

Folic acid is a vitamin (B9) which is important in the early weeks of pregnancy because it helps close the neural tube.

folic acid capsules

Why should I take folic acid?

Certain vitamins and minerals, including folic acid, have been shown to have a positive impact on the health of a growing baby. 

Folic acid supplements have been shown to dramatically cut the risk of having a baby with spina bifida or other problems affecting the baby's spine and neural tube.

When should I take folic acid?

You are advised to take folic acid every day while you are trying to get pregnant, and for at least the first 12 weeks of pregnancy while the baby's spine develops.

How much folic acid should I take?

Most women will be advised to take a 400mcg supplement.

You should also try to eat foods that contain folate, which is the natural form of folic acid. These include:

  • green leafy vegetables
  • brown rice
  • some breakfast cereals. 

It is difficult to get the amount of folate that you need from food though so it is very important to take a folic acid supplement.

Higher dose

You will be advised to take a higher dose of 5mg if your baby has an increased risk of having neural tube development problems. The risk increases if you have diabetes or if you or your partner have a history of neural tube defects.

More information about supplements

  • Folic acid pills.

    Folic acid in pregnancy

    Folic acid is important to take during pregnancy because it helps your baby’s nervous system to develop.

  • Pregnant woman taking iron supplements.

    Iron in pregnancy

    Iron makes red blood cells for both you and your baby. If you are anaemic or are expecting twins your doctor may prescribe you iron supplements in pregnancy.

  • Vitamin D supplements.

    Vitamin D in pregnancy

    Everybody needs vitamin D – it helps us to absorb the right amount of calcium and phosphate. It is especially important in pregnancy as it helps your baby’s bones, teeth, kidneys, heart and nervous system to develop.

  • A pregnant woman with a handful of vitamins and supplements.

    News

    Think twice before shelling out for pregnancy multivitamins

    Pregnancy multivitamins are a waste of money because most mums-to-be do not need them, according to researchers.

  • A hand holding an array of vitamin capsules

    What supplements do I need in pregnancy?

    There are two vitamins that are very important in pregnancy and that you can take as a supplement: folic acid and vitamin D. If you are anaemic it may be important to take an iron supplement too.

  • A hand holding an array of different pills

    Drugs and medicines in pregnancy

    To be on the safe side it's best to talk to a health professional before taking any new drugs or medicines during pregnancy in case they might have any effect on the growing baby.

Sources

  1. Macdonald S, Magill-Cuerden J, Mayes’ midwifery, fourteenth edition, Edinburgh Bailliere Tindall Elsevier, 2012
  2. National Institute for Health and Care Excellence, Antenatal care: routine care for the healthy pregnant woman, clinical guideline 62, London NICE, 2008
  3. US Department of Health and Human Services, Neural tube defects: condition information, Washington DC National Institutes of Health, 2012. Also available at: http://www.nichd.nih.gov/health/topics/ntds/conditioninfo/Pages/default.aspx (accessed 13 May 2014)
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Last reviewed on June 13th, 2017. Next review date June 13th, 2020.

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