Folic acid is a vital nutrient for the development of healthy babies in the womb. During the first weeks of pregnancy, the brain and spinal cord are developing rapidly and taking extra folic acid daily is essential in supporting this as it helps to reduce the risk of serious birth defects like spina bifida.
Currently only one in four women is taking Folic Acid before pregnancy and these figures have not improved in the last 10 years. Since the early 1990s, it has been established that taking a daily 400 microgram Folic Acid supplement for 12 weeks before conception and for the first 12 weeks of pregnancy can prevent up to 70% of Neural Tube Defects (NTD’s). There is evidence that Neural Tube Defects are on the rise in Ireland and we now have the highest rate in Europe.
Folic acid works best if you take it before and during early pregnancy. It should be taken at least 3 months before getting pregnant to help reduce the risk of NTDs in your unborn child, so if you are sexually active and there is a chance you could become pregnant, you need to take folic acid every day. If you are already pregnant, you should start taking folic acid straight away and continue each day up to 3 months into your pregnancy.
Some women may be at a higher risk of having a baby with an NTD, and as such may need to take a higher dose of folic acid. You will be able to discuss this with your doctor but the risk categories are:
- If you or your child have a neural tube defect (NTD) for example spina bifida or hydrocephalus
- If you or your partner’s family have a history of NTDs
- If you are overweight or obese
- If you have type-1 or type-2 diabetes.
While a healthy, balanced diet is important, it’s impossible to get all of the folic acid that you need from diet alone, which is why a daily supplement of 400mcg is recommended. Folic acid is available without prescription in all of our pharmacies, and you can also buy it from our online store.
Information taken from the safefood.eu website. For more facts on the importance of folic acid, before & during pregnancy, please see the safefood.eu website here.