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.


    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.


  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: [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: [accessed 18 January 2015].
  5. NHS Choices, Supplements in pregnancy, [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: [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
Hide details

    Last reviewed on April 11th, 2017. Next review date April 11th, 2018.

    Was this information useful?

    Yes No


    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 Moses Titilayo ... (not verified) on 19 Apr 2020 - 12:31

      Hi,Am 6weeks pregnant,can I start taking my Folic acid now.

    • By Sawerw (not verified) on 9 Apr 2020 - 08:41

      My periods is 5 days late

    • By Kim (not verified) on 14 Mar 2020 - 14:17

      Hello i just had a treated miscarriage a week ago at 7 weeks and was performed d&c . I stopped bleeding the following day after. I want to try again for a baby as soon as possible can i do that even if i haven't got my period yet?

    • By XYZ (not verified) on 7 Oct 2019 - 04:51

      Is 5mg doses of folic acid ok during pregnancy? Or it should be lowered

    • By Judith mitey (not verified) on 19 Sep 2019 - 10:01

      I'm 16 weeks pregnant, can I still take folic acid?

    • By nicoleta bengoi (not verified) on 29 Aug 2019 - 14:25

      hi. i am pregnant in 5 weeks... i have bought pregnacare max ... is that ok??? bcz someone told me i should have pregnacare original not max??? did it affect with anything that i took pregnCare max and not original??? thanks

    • By Grace (not verified) on 16 Jul 2019 - 15:51

      I realised iwas pregnant after 12weeks and i havented taken any folic acid medication since my pregnancy is 20weeks now ...on which week should i get tetnus injections??

    • By succes (not verified) on 15 Jul 2019 - 17:07

      please am 5 months pregnancy and I had little drop of blood on 3 different occasions and had not been taking folic acid, went to the hospital the other day and the doctor said I should go do a scan that the size he is seeing is not up to five months and by now my tommy should be big than this.

    • By Matilda kankam (not verified) on 28 Jun 2019 - 21:32

      I feel all e sigs n and symptoms of the of pregnancy but I checked and it was negative. N I've missed my period since disonth but is negative.

    • By Midwife @Tommys on 19 Jan 2018 - 13:37

      Hi Esther,
      I am so sorry to hear about the loss of your little girl last year.
      It can take time to conceive, and after having a baby it can take a couple of months for things to settle down. If, after a year of trying, you are not pregnant then do see the GP to be reviewed. If we can support you at all then please do be in touch with us, you can email us [email protected] Wishing you all the best x

    • By Esther (not verified) on 19 Jan 2018 - 10:28

      I am 36 years old, last year 23 AUGUST 2017 I had a still birth to a baby girl at 20 weeks , now I am ttc again .

    Add new comment