Folic acid in pregnancy

Folic acid is important to take when you are planning a pregnancy and during pregnancy because it helps your baby’s nervous system to develop.

What is folic acid? 

Folate is a B vitamin which is found in some food. The manmade form is called folic acid and is in supplement form.  

Why take folic acid in pregnancy?

Folic acid is a vitamin that helps your baby's neural tube grow. The neural tube is part of the baby’s nervous system. 

Evidence shows that taking folic acid supplements reduces the risk of your baby developing spina bifida and other conditions that affect their spine and neural tube. 

When should I start taking folic acid in pregnancy? 

If you are planning a pregnancy, it is important to take a folic acid supplement from 3 months before becoming pregnant. If you find out you are pregnant, try to start taking folic acid as soon as possible up to week 12 of pregnancy. 

By 12 weeks the neural tube has already grown, so taking folic acid after this point will not help your baby’s development. However, some pregnancy multivitamins (including Healthy Start vitamins) include folic acid. You can continue to take this all through your pregnancy. 

If you are past 12 weeks in your pregnancy and did not know you should take folic acid, try not to worry. The risk of this affecting your baby is still very small. 

How much folic acid should I take in pregnancy?

Most people are advised to take 400 micrograms of folic acid each day. 

Some people may need to take more folic acid, for example, if you: 

  • (or the baby’s other parent) have had spina bifida
  • had a previous baby with spina bifida
  • (or the baby’s other parent) have a family history of neural tube defects
  • have diabetes 
  • have a high Body Mass Index (BMI) that is over 30
  • are taking medication for epilepsy
  • are taking anti-retroviral medication for HIV.

Your GP can prescribe you a higher dose if you need it and are planning a pregnancy, or are in the early stages of pregnancy.

What foods have folic acid? 

Folic acid in its natural form is called folate. Some foods contain folate naturally.

Foods that have folic acid include:

  • green leafy vegetables, such as broccoli and cabbage
  • green beans
  • peas
  • oranges
  • chickpeas and brown rice. 

Some breakfast cereals, plant-based spreads and bread have folic acid added.

During pregnancy, it's important to try to have a balanced diet that includes a variety of foods. This will help make sure that you and our baby have all the nutrients you need. Find out more about how to eat well during pregnancy

Bestwick JP et al. (2014). “Prevention of neural tube defects: a cross sectional uptake of folic acid supplementation in nearly half a million women.” Plos One vol. 9,2 

Macdonald S, Magill-Cuerden J (2012) Mayes’ Midwifery, 14th edition, London, Ballière Tindall. 

National Institute of Health and Care Excellence (updated 2014), Maternal and child nutrition, 

NHS Choices [accessed 29/10/20] B vitamins and folic acid:

NHS Choices [accessed 29/10/20] Why do I need folic acid in pregnancy?

Review dates
Reviewed: 05 March 2021
Next review: 05 March 2024

This content is currently being reviewed by our team. Updated information will be coming soon.