Folic acid during pregnancy: Everything you need to know

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Folic acid during pregnancy
If you're pregnant then chances are the words 'folic acid' will have already cropped up, whether it's during a visit to the doctors, chatting to friends or scrolling the internet.

Folic acid is a B vitamin and probably one of the most important when it comes to pregnancy. But why exactly do you need folic acid during pregnancy, and how do you know if you're getting enough?

From getting to grips with folic acid supplements to finding out the best folic acid foods out there, we've got everything you need to know right here!

What is folic acid?

Folic acid (also known as folate) is a B vitamin needed to make new cells in the body. The body does not store very much folic acid, so you need a regular fresh supply to keep healthy. Pregnant women in particular need a good supply of folic acid, which is used by the developing baby. The very early stages of pregnancy are crucial in the need for folic acid, which is why increasing your intake of folic acid is recommended for women planning a pregnancy and women who are pregnant.

Dr Alexandra Phelan, NHS GP and member of the Pharmacy2U Online Doctor Service team, says: 'Taking folic acid - also known as vitamin B9 – is vital if you're thinking of having a baby. It plays a major role in the healthy development of a baby's brain and spinal cord, and can significantly reduce the risk of your child being born with conditions such as spina bifida, where the spine does not properly form.'

How can I get more folic acid?

Folic acid supplements

If you take folic acid tablets (supplements) in early pregnancy you reduce the risk of having a baby born with a spinal cord problem such as spina bifida. This is because the early development of the baby's spinal cord requires a regular, good supply of folic acid. There is also evidence that folic acid reduces the risk of having a baby born with a cleft lip and palate, a heart defect (congenital heart disease), and the risk of a premature (preterm or early) labour.

Ideally, start taking folic acid tablets before becoming pregnant. The common advice is to start from the time you plan to become pregnant. If the pregnancy is unplanned then start taking folic acid tablets as soon as you know that you are pregnant.

You should continue to take folic acid tablets for the first 12 weeks of pregnancy.

Folic acid foods

Although, according to the NHS, it's almost impossible to get enough folic acid just from food, adding folic acid-rich foods to your diet can help you on your way to getting enough of the vitamin in your diet.
  • Broccoli
  • Fortified breakfast cereals (such as bran flakes)
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Oranges
  • Spinach
  • Asparagus
  • Peas
  • Chickpeas
  • Baked potatoes
  • Hard-boiled eggs
  • Liver
  • Brown rice

  • How much folic acid do I need?

  • According to the NHS, adults need 0.2mg of folic acid a day
  • However, if you're pregnant, thinking of trying to have a baby or likely to become pregnant, they recommend that you take a 0.4mg (400 micrograms) folic acid supplement daily from the time you stop using contraception until the 12th week of pregnancy
  • If your risk of having a child with a spinal cord problem (one of the most common neural tube defects) is increased, then the dose is higher (5mg a day - you need a prescription for this higher dose). That is, if:
    - you have had a previously affected pregnancy
    - you or your partner have a spinal cord defect
    - you are taking medication for epilepsy
    - you have coeliac disease, diabetes, sickle cell anaemia, or thalassaemia

  • In addition to folic acid supplements, you should eat a healthy diet when you are pregnant which should include foods rich in folic acid outlined above.

    Where do I get folic acid supplements from?

    You can buy folic acid tablets from pharmacies, supermarkets, health food stores such as Holland & Barrett, and they're also available on prescription.

    Continued below...

    Are there any side-effects or risks when taking folic acid?

    No. Folic acid is a naturally occurring vitamin which your body needs. It is not a drug (medicine). By taking these supplements you are just making sure that you get a good, regular amount of folic acid which you need especially during pregnancy.

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    1. 1. Folic acid during pregnancy: Everything you need to know

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