Why do I need to take pregnancy supplements if I’m trying to get pregnant?
Taking folic acid supplements (tablets) does not help you get pregnant, but you are recommended to take them while you are trying to get pregnant and during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. This is because it can improve your health and your baby’s health and help prevent serious pregnancy complications. You are also recommended to take vitamin D supplements.
Eating a healthy, varied diet will also help you to get most of the vitamins and minerals you need for a healthy pregnancy.
There are many branded pre-pregnancy supplements (vitamins) available in pharmacies and supermarkets. These are not harmful, but they can be expensive.
Folic acid and vitamin D are the only supplements you need and it is often cheaper to buy these separately.
Why should I take folic acid before pregnancy?
Folic acid (vitamin B9) reduces the risk of the baby having a neural tube defect. This is when the baby’s spinal cord does not develop properly. Spina bifida is one type of neural tube defect.
When should I start taking folic acid?
Try to start taking folic acid tablets for 3 months before you get pregnant (conceive). This allows it to build up in your body to a level that gives the most protection to your future baby against neural tube defects, such as spina bifida.
As you could get pregnant within a month of trying, it is ideal to start taking folic acid tablets 3 two months before you stop contraception. If you have already stopped contraception, that’s OK, start taking it now.
Your doctor or midwife may recommend that you keep taking folic acid throughout pregnancy if you are anaemic or at risk of anaemia.
It is not harmful to take folic acid tablets for far longer than 2 to 3 months if it is taking longer than that to get pregnant.
How much folic acid should I take?
Most women and birthing people are advised to take a 400mcg supplement every day. You can get these from most pharmacies, supermarkets, and health food shops. Your GP may also be able to prescribe them to you.
Folic acid is a synthetic form of folate, which can be found in some food, including:
- spinach, kale, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, broccoli
- beans and legumes (e.g. peas, blackeye beans)
- yeast and beef extracts
- oranges and orange juice
- wheat bran and other whole grain foods
- poultry, pork, shellfish and liver
- some brands of breakfast cereals.
Eating foods high in folate will not be enough to protect your baby’s development. It is important to take the folic acid supplement too.
Some people need a higher dose of folic acid
You may need a 5mg supplement of folic acid if you:
- or your baby’s other biological parent have a neural tube defect
- previously had a pregnancy affected by a neural tube defect
- or the baby’s other biological parent have a family history of neural tube defects
- have diabetes
- take anti-epilepsy medicine
- take anti-retroviral medicine for HIV
- have sickle cell anaemia or thalassaemia
- have a BMI above 30.
Your GP can give you a prescription for 5mg folic acid supplements because they are not available over the counter.