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 supplementsIf 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 foodsAlthough, 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.
How much folic acid do I need?
- 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.