Folic acid in pregnancy

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

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.

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.

Some women who do not get enough folic acid may be at risk of having a baby with a neural tube defect (spina bifida).

As we don’t know who is at risk, it is recommended that all women take a folic acid supplement from three months before conception up to at least 12 weeks of pregnancy.

How much folic acid should I take in pregnancy?

You need to take 400 micrograms of folic acid each day – you should take this from before you are pregnant until you are 12 weeks pregnant.

Some people may need to take a bigger dose of folic acid. This can be prescribed by GPs if you are planning a pregnancy or are in the early stages of pregnancy and if you:

  • (or the baby’s father) have had spina bifida
  • have had a previous baby with spina bifida
  • (or the baby’s father) have a family history of neural tube defects
  • have diabetes
  • have a high Body Mass Index (over 30)
  • are taking medication for epilepsy.

How much folic acid should I take in pregnancy if I have diabetes?

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 folic acid.

  • You should take a 5mg folic acid supplement every day while you are trying to get pregnant, and for at least the first 12 weeks of pregnancy.

What foods have folic acid? 

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

Food that have folic acid include:

  • green leafy vegetables, such as broccoli and cabbage
  • green beans
  • oranges,
  • chickpeas and brown rice.
  • some breakfast cereals, margarine and bread have folic acid added, these are called 'fortified' foods.

Am I getting enough folic acid?

It’s difficult to know if you’re having enough folic acid just from your diet, so it’s best to take the supplements to be sure.

I’m 13 weeks pregnant. Is it too late to take folic acid?

If you didn’t realise you were pregnant and missed the window in which to take folic acid, don't panic. The risk of it affecting your baby is still very small. There is no harm in taking folic acid from now until the end of your pregnancy but it will not make a difference to the development of the neural tube as it will have already grown.

Find out when you should start taking folic acid in pregnancy here.

More on supplements on pregnancy

  • 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.

Sources

  1. Hollis BW et al. (2011). “Vitamin D supplementation during pregnancy: Double-blind, randomized clinical trial of safety and effectiveness.” JBMR 2011;26:2341-2357
  2. National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (2008) ‘Antenatal Care’, NICE Clinical Guidelines 62: http://publications.nice.org.uk/antenatal-care-cg62 [accessed 18 January 2015].
  3. Macdonald S, Magill-Cuerden J (2012) Mayes’ Midwifery, 14th edition, London, Ballière Tindall.
  4.  National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (2008) ‘Antenatal Care’, NICE Clinical Guidelines 62: http://publications.nice.org.uk/antenatal-care-cg62 [accessed 18 January 2015].
  5. NHS Choices, Supplements in pregnancy, http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/pregnancy-and-baby/pages/vitamins-minerals-supplements-pregnant.aspx [accessed 12/11/2014]
  6. 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 2014; DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0089354
  7. British Dietetic Association (2013) ‘Food Fact Sheet: Vitamin D’, London, BDA: http://www.bda.uk.com/foodfacts/VitaminD [accessed 18 January 2015] 
  8. Weissmann-Brenner A, et al. (2014). “Maternal medical compromise during pregnancy and pregnancy outcomes.” The Journal of Maternal-Fetal and neonatal medicine 2014;doi: 10.3109/14767058.2014.947949
  9. Hoppe M, et al. (2013). “Heme iron-based dietary intervention for improvement of iron status in young women.” Nutrition 2013;29:89-95
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