Why do I need folic acid in pregnancy?

Folic acid (also known as vitamin B9) is very important for the development of a healthy foetus, as it can significantly reduce the risk of neural tube defects (NTDs), such as spina bifida.

Folic acid is very important for the development of a healthy foetus. It can significantly reduce the risk of neural tube defects (NTDs), such as spina bifida.

How much should you take

It's recommended that all women should take a daily supplement of 400 micrograms of folic acid while they're trying to get pregnant and during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, when the baby's spine is developing.

If you didn't take folic acid supplements before getting pregnant, you should start taking them as soon as you find out you're pregnant. You can get them from pharmacies, large supermarkets, health food stores, or on prescription from your GP.

When higher doses are needed

Some women will be advised to take a higher dose of 5 milligrams (5mg) of folic acid each day until they're 12 weeks pregnant if they have a higher risk of having a pregnancy affected by neural tube defects.

You may have a higher risk if:

  • you or your partner have a neural tube defect
  • you previously had a pregnancy affected by a neural tube defect
  • you or your partner have a family history of neural tube defects
  • you have diabetes

If any of the above applies to you, talk to your GP – they can prescribe a higher dose of folic acid. Your GP or midwife may also recommend additional screening tests during your pregnancy.

You should also talk to your GP if you're taking anti-epileptic medication, as you may also need to take a higher dose of folic acid.

Dietary sources of folic acid

Folic acid is found in foods like leafy green vegetables, brown rice, granary bread, and breakfast cereals fortified with folic acid.

You should try to eat plenty of these foods during your pregnancy, but it would be almost impossible to get enough folic acid just from food – the only way to be sure you're getting the right amount is by taking a supplement.

Further information:

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