The UK Department of Health recommends that all women take a daily supplement containing 400μg of folic acid when trying for a baby, and for at least the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, to help reduce the risk of Neutral Tube Defects (NTDs) such as Spina Bifida, in your baby.
If you are planning on trying to become pregnant, here are ten important facts you should know about what folic acid is, why it’s recommended that you take it before and during pregnancy, how much folic acid it is recommended that you take, and when you should start to take folic acid (the answer might surprise you).
1. What Is Folic Acid And Why Is It So Important For Pregnancy?
Folic acid is an important B vitamin, also known as vitamin B9. It helps the body produce and maintain healthy red blood cells and assists in the formation of DNA. Folic acid is water soluble, which means that our bodies can’t store it very well. So you need to ensure that you’re getting a fresh supply of folic acid every day.
Folic acid is essential to create the building blocks for your baby’s life, which is why it becomes particularly important in the very early days of pregnancy when cell division is at its most rapid.
It is important to take folic acid before and during pregnancy for the development of a healthy baby as it can significantly reduce the risk of neural tube defects (NTDs), such as Spina Bifida. There is strong evidence that NTDs can be prevented by boosting levels of folate before pregnancy.
If taken as recommended, both before and during early pregnancy, folic acid can help to reduce the risk of these serious birth defects.
2. How Much Folic Acid Should I Take When Trying For A Baby, And When Should I Take It?
The UK Department of Health recommends that all women take a daily supplement containing 400μg of folic acid when trying for a baby, and for at least the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, as this can help to reduce the risk of Neutral Tube Defects (NTDs) such as Spina Bifida, in your baby. This means you should start to take folic acid if there’s any chance you may fall pregnant, and certainly well before you discover you are pregnant.
Taking supplemental folic acid intake increases the maternal folate status†. Low maternal folate status is a risk factor in the development of neural tube defects in the developing foetus.
†The beneficial effect is obtained with a supplemental folic acid daily intake of 400mcg for at least one month before and up to three months after conception.
3. Where Does Folic Acid Occur Naturally In Food?
There are natural sources of folic acid in food, including:
- Wholemeal bread
- Leafy green veg
- Tinned salmon
- Brussels Sprouts.
Although it is important to eat a healthy, balanced diet, including these foods, before and during pregnancy, it would be incredibly difficult to eat enough to get the right amount of folic acid purely from food. This is why it is so important to take supplements if you're thinking about getting pregnant.
4. If Flour In The UK Is Fortified With Folic Acid, Do I Still Need To Take An Additional Folic Acid Supplement Before And During Pregnancy?
Yes, you will still need to take a supplement as fortification is only to improve the folic acid contribution from the normal diet. The government announced in September 2021 the good news that folic acid will be added to UK white flour in the future (the new rules will exclude gluten-free and wholemeal flour). This is to help increase the amount of folic acid in maternal diets, as low folic acid status is a risk factor in the development of neural tube defects (NTDs), such as spina bifida. This will, however, not replace the need for mums-to-be to take a folic acid supplement, as the UK Department of Health continues to recommend that all women trying to conceive until the 12th week of pregnancy should take a daily supplement containing 400µg folic acid.
5. What Happens If I Didn’t Take folic Acid Supplements Before Becoming Pregnant?
If you didn't take folic acid supplements before getting pregnant, don't worry, but it’s recommended to take them as soon as you find out you’re pregnant. It also is safe to continue taking folic acid supplements after the first 12 weeks of pregnancy.
6. What If I’m At An Increased Risk Of NTDs During Pregnancy?
While The UK Department of Health recommends that all women take a daily supplement containing 400μg of folic acid for at least the first 12 weeks of pregnancy , a new study recommends 400µg folic acid for all 9 months of pregnancy*.
7. Do I Need To Take Any Other Vitamins Alongside Folic Acid?
Many experts now recommend that vitamin B12 is taken with folic acid at this time as it works very closely with folic acid. Research suggests* that taking a daily supplement of at least 2.5µg of B12 (the EU NRV) with your main meal, in addition to the recommended daily 400µg supplement of folic acid, should be considered.
Vitamin B12 is mainly found in animal and dairy produce, so B12 supplementation is especially important for women who are following vegetarian or vegan diets.
* Addition of Vitamin B12 to folic acid supplements to optimise the prevention of Spina Bifida and other Neural Tube Defects, Professor John M. Scott, Biomedical Sciences Institute, Trinity College, Dublin 2, Ireland
8. Which Pregnacare Supplements Contain Folic Acid?
All of the Pregnacare range of supplements, including Pregnacare Conception, designed for when you’re trying for a baby, and Pregnacare, for when you’re already pregnant, contain the exact levels of folic acid (400micrograms) and vitamin D (10micrograms) recommended by the UK Department of Health.
Make sure you read our post on the reasons to consider taking a combined pregnancy supplement.
9. Should I Take Folic Acid All The Way Through My Pregnancy?
While The UK Department of Health recommends that all women take a daily supplement containing 400μg of folic acid for at least the first 12 weeks of pregnancy , a new study on cognitive development also found that it is vital to take 400µg folic acid for all 9 months of pregnancy*.
All Pregnacare products provide 400µg folic acid as it helps contribute to maternal tissue growth during pregnancy. Folic acid also contributes to normal psychological function.
*McNulty et al. BMC Medicine (2019) 17:196 Children of mothers taking folic acid throughout pregnancy scored significantly higher on cognitive development at age 3 years and word reasoning at age 7 years, compared to those in whom folic acid supplementation was stopped after the first trimester.
10. Do I Need To Take Folic Acid After I’ve Given Birth?
You don’t need to take folic acid once you’ve given birth, unless you are trying for another baby. However folic has many benefits for general health, including that it contributes to the normal function of the immune system and contributes to the reduction of tiredness and fatigue. Folic Acid is safe to take when you are breastfeeding as is not harmful to the baby, and is included in Pregnacare supplements for after birth; Pregnacare Breast-feeding and New Mum.