Why is it important?
Folic acid helps babies' spines develop. It helps prevent what are called neural tube defects, such as spina bifida (see the section on routine tests and checks for more information on neural tube defects). If there is a chance you are, or might become pregnant, you should take a supplement and eat more foods containing folate (the natural form of folic acid).
When should I take it and how much do I need
Your baby’s spine starts to grow very early in pregnancy – often before you know you are expecting. This means it’s important to make sure you’re getting enough folic acid if you want to get pregnant.
It is recommended that you take a 400mcg (0.4mg) folic acid tablet every day before you get pregnant and for the first 12 weeks. You should also eat foods rich in folate, found in green leafy vegetables, citrus fruits and dried beans and peas.
If you have had a baby with a neural tube defect, have a family history of neural tube defects or are on medication for epilepsy then you will need to take a higher dose folic acid supplement (5mg). This dosage is only available on prescription. You may also need to take this dose if you have diabetes – ask your GP.
How do I get it?
You can buy folic acid supplements from chemists, supermarkets or health food shops or your doctor may prescribe them if you get free prescriptions.
You should also eat foods containing folate, such as:
- green vegetables, particularly dark, leafy ones such as kale, broccoli and Brussels sprouts and spring greens – be careful not to overcook as you will destroy some of the vitamins
- fortified breakfast cereals – some have extra folic acid added so check the label
- oranges, berries, potatoes and lentils
- Lettuce and peas are also a good sources of folate
If you are eligible for Healthy Start, you can get free vitamins containing folic acid, Vitamin C and Vitamin D, as well as Healthy Start Vouchers, visit www.healthystart.nhs.uk or ask a health professional for more information.