When should I start taking folic acid?

Folic acid is particularly needed in the early weeks of pregnancy because it helps close the neural tube early on in the pregnancy.

Certain vitamins and minerals, including folic acid, have been shown to have an impact on the health of the 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. This is why women are advised to take a 400mcg supplement every day while they are trying to get pregnant, and for at least the first 12 weeks of pregnancy.

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.

If you have diabetes or if you or your partner have a history of neural tube defects, your baby is at an increased risk of having neural tube development problems so you will be advised to take a higher dose of 5mg.

Read more about vital supplements in pregnancy

Read more

  • 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.

    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

    Supplements 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.

Read more about early pregnancy


  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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