Folic Acid - Planning a family
Planning a Family?
Folic acid supplements taken when planning a pregnancy can help reduce the risk of the baby having spina bifida or other Neural Tube Defects (NTD).
If you a planning a pregnancy, the NHS suggest you should take a daily 0.4 mg (400 microgram) folic acid supplement during the time you are trying to conceive until the 12th week of pregnancy. You should also eat more foods containing folate (the natural form of folic acid).
For certain groups of women an increased 5mg dose is recommended as they may have a higher risk of having a baby with these problems
- Those who have a NTD or a family history of NTD
- Those whose partner has a NTD or a family history of NTD
- Those with diabetes
- Those with coeliac disease
Those taking anti-epilepsy medication
These women should ask their GP for a higher dose of 5mg, which is only available on prescription.
A recent study has suggested that women who are overweight may also be at increased risk of having babies with spina bifida and should seriously consider trying to lose weight prior to planning a pregnancy
Folic acid is easily available in most supermarkets and pharmacies.
Please consult your doctor or local pharmacist for advice on taking folic acid supplements.
What is Folic Acid?
Folic acid, known as folate in its natural form, is one of the B-group of vitamins. Folate is found in small amounts in many foods. Good sources include broccoli, Brussel sprouts, asparagus, peas, chickpeas and brown rice.
Other useful sources include fortified breakfast cereals, some bread and some fruit (such as oranges and bananas).
Folic acid helps your baby’s spine develop. 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 are planning to get pregnant.
Why is Folic Acid Important?
A number of different studies over recent years have indicated significant variation in reduction of neural tube defects ranging from 20% to 80% as a result of taking folic acid, and this is generally because there are so many factors to take into consideration which have an impact on the efficacy of folic acid supplementation. For example issues such as what sort of food you eat normally, whether you have had a previous pregnancy affected or have a history of spina bifida in your family, or indeed where you live may all have an impact on the results. However, overall it has shown to statistically help reduce the chances of spina bifida affecting your pregnancy.
How much do I need?
Folic acid is a water soluble vitamin, which means you need it in your diet every day because it can't be stored in the body.
Most people should be able to get the amount they need by eating a varied and balanced diet. Adults need 0.2 mg a day, however the NHS recommend that you should take a daily 0.4 mg (400 microgram) folic acid supplement from the time you stop using contraception and are trying to conceive, until the 12th week of pregnancy. This is to help prevent Neural Tube Defects such as spina bifida.
What happens if I take too much?
Folic acid is a water soluble vitamin which is not stored in the body and therefore any ingested folic acid which is not needed is simply excreted out of the body. Prolonged intake of large doses of folic acid can make a particular type of anaemia more difficult to diagnose but this is very uncommon in women of child-bearing age.
Are all women folic acid aware?
Unfortunately, a recent study has revealed that over 50% of women in Scotland are still not taking folic acid prior to pregnancy.
Additionally, as most pregnancies are unplanned, the Association is therefore recommending that all sexually active women of child bearing age in Scotland, who are thinking of becoming pregnant or might become pregnant by accident, should take folic acid regularly. Compliance could prevent up to 72% of NTDs. Sadly, most women do not follow the recommendations and so NTD rates remain stubbornly high.
This is why we urgently need a new campaign to increase women’s awareness in Scotland on the benefits of taking folic acid.
For further information on the Association’s “Are you getting enough?” campaign please CLICK HERE.
Bradshaw, P., Bromley, C., Hill, T., Mabelis, J., Parkes, A., Smith, K., Sweeting, H., Warner, P. and Wight, D. (2013) Growing Up in Scotland: Birth Cohort 2 - Results from the first year, Edinburgh: Scottish Government.
The Ponti Study - Prevention of Neural Tube Defects by Inositol
The UCL Institute of Child Health are inviting women who have experienced a pregnancy involving a neural tube defect (eg, spina bifida or anencephaly), and are now planning a further pregnancy, to take part in an important new research project.
Please click below to find out more The PONTI Study