Folic acid is very important for the development of a healthy
fetus, as it can significantly reduce the risk of neural tube defects (NTDs), such as spina bifida. It is also known as vitamin B9.
Sources of folic acid
It is recommended that women should take a daily supplement of 0.4mg of folic acid while they are trying to conceive, and should continue taking this
dose for the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, when the baby's
spine is developing.
You can get folic acid tablets from pharmacies, large supermarkets, health food stores or on prescription from your doctor. One daily tablet contains exactly the amount of folic acid that you need.
Dietary sources of folic acid include green, leafy vegetables, breakfast cereals and whole grain bread. Always check the food labels. However, it would be almost impossible to get enough folic acid just from food; the only way to be sure you are getting the right amount is by taking a supplement.
Liver is also very rich in folic acid, although it is not safe to eat while you are pregnant, or trying to become pregnant. This is because
liver is also very rich in vitamin A, too much of which can cause birth defects in your baby.
Folic acid for those at higher risk of NTDs
Some women have an increased risk of having a baby with a neural tube defect (NTD). You may have a higher than average risk if:
- you have previously given birth to a baby with an NTD,
- you are taking an antiepileptic medication,
- either you, or your partner, has an NTD,
- you have a condition caused by a sensitivity to gluten (celiac
- you have diabetes.
If any of the above applies to you, a higher
dose of folic acid (5.0 mg) is recommended to reduce your chances of having a child with an NTD. This higher
dose is available on prescription from your doctor. Your doctor may also recommend additional screening tests during your pregnancy.
Folic acid deficiency
There are also a number of conditions that increase the risk of folic acid
deficiency (not having enough in your body).
anticonvulsant medicines, undergoing
dialysis, or with conditions such as
disease, may need to supplement their diet with additional folic acid. This will also apply if you have
malabsorption (difficulty absorbing vitamins and minerals) or certain types of anemia.
If you are taking medication for a medical condition, check with your doctor before taking folic acid supplements.