Folic acid is very important for the development of a healthy fetus as it can significantly reduce the risk of neural tube defects such as spina bifida.
It's recommended that all women trying to get pregnant, and up to a year before conception, take 400 micrograms of folic acid. This is also the case during the first trimester when the baby's spine is developing the most. This dose may need to be increased to 5mg if your BMI is 30 or above, so consult your GP for their recommendation if you are actively trying to conceive.
If you haven't taken folic acid supplements before getting pregnant you should start taking them as soon as you find out you are pregnant. This is the case for a number of mothers since a good majority of pregnancies are classified as ‘accidental’.
Folic acid is found in leafy green vegetables, brown rice, whole-grain bread and breakfast cereals fortified with folic acid. You should try to eat plenty of these foods during pregnancy but they will not be enough on their own. The only way to make sure you're getting enough folic acid is by taking a supplement.
Higher doses of folic acid are needed if;
- You or your partner have a neural tube defect or a family history of neural tube defects
- You previously had a pregnancy affected by a neural tube defect
- You have diabetes
If any of the above apply to you, your GP will prescribe a higher dose of folic acid. Your midwife or GP may also recommend additional screening test during pregnancy. Folic acid will commonly be paired with a multivitamin, so get used to a routine of taking all of your supplements at once, and then you will have less to worry about as things progress.