One of the first questions your midwife will ask you at your first booking in appointment, is whether you’ve been taking folic acid.  Folic acid (also known as vitamin B9) is a staple of early pregnancy, and if you can take it in the months prior to conception so that your body is ‘fully stocked’ all the better.  But what is this magical vitamin and why is it so important?

What is Folic acid?

Folic acid is a naturally occurring vitamin which can be found naturally in green, leafy vegetables, brown rice, granary bread, and fortified breakfast cereals.  Studies have shown that this essential vitamin can significantly reduce the risk of neural tube defects (NTDs) such as spina bifida in unborn children.  For this reason, the Department of Health recommends that women trying to conceive should take a 400 microgram supplement each day and to continue once they are pregnant as the baby’s spine is developing until around 12 weeks.  Of course if your pregnancy is unplanned, its unlikely that you’ll have been taking these supplements, so the recommendation is to start straight away.

Current advice for women planning a pregnancy

  • Take a 400 microgram folic acid supplement daily
  • Choose breads and breakfast cereals which have added folic acid
  • Eat more of foods which are naturally high in folates and do not overcook them.

Higher risk of NTD?

If you have a higher risk of having pregnancy affected by an NTD, you may need more thatn the standard 400mcg dose.  Of course, your midwife or GP will let you know if this is the case, but if you fall into any of the following categories, you should seek advice:

  • If you or your partner has an NTD
  • If an NTD has affected a previous pregnancy
  • If there is a family history of NTD
  • If you have diabetes
  • If you’re taking anti-epilieptic medication