Folic Acid: The Facts

Have you heard of Folic Acid? If yes, you probably associate it with pregnancy – “that doesn’t apply to me as I’m not pregnant” right? Unfortunately this is not the case and this assumption about Folic Acid is a very common misconception (you can breathe a sigh of relief as you are not alone). If you are sexually active and could become pregnant, whether you are planning to or not, you need to take a folic acid supplement daily.

Folic Acid (part of the B vitamins family) is very important for healthy foetal development. Over half of pregnancies are unplanned which means that by the time you find out that you are pregnant it may be too late for the benefits of Folic Acid such as it supports your future baby’s spine and brain development.

You may be surprised to know that a baby’s spine develops fully in the first four weeks of pregnancy. That is why it is essential to take folic acid for at least 3 months before (if you’re planning) and to continue taking it during the first 3 months of pregnancy. You never know when you might become pregnant, so taking folic acid every day can help protect your future little one.

If you are sexually active and could become pregnant, whether you are planning to or not, it is recommended that you take a 400 microgram folic acid supplement every day before pregnancy and during the first 3 months of pregnancy.

The facts

  • Folic acid isn’t stored in the body so you need to take it every day. And while we all aim to get all our necessary nutrients from our diet instead of taking supplements or tablets, Folic acid is the exception and it is necessary that you take it.
  • Taking folic acid can help prevent certain birth defects of the brain and spinal cord, known as neural tube defects (NTDs). Spina bifida is one of the most common NTDs.
  • Folic acid works best if you take it before and during early pregnancy. It should be taken at least 3 months before getting pregnant to help reduce the risk of NTDs in your unborn child. If you are already pregnant, start taking folic acid straight away and continue each day up to 3 months into your pregnancy.
  • It’s best to take folic acid as an individual supplement because that ensures that you get the right dose of 400 micrograms a day. Alternatively some multi-vitamins may contain 400 micrograms of folic acid but they may also contain vitamin A, which is not recommended during pregnancy so it is important that you check the label.
  • Check your diet to make sure you’re getting both synthetic folic acid and naturally occurring folate. Folate rich foods include leafy green vegetables, avocado, asparagus & lentils.

In summary if you are not taking Folic Acid already, you now know why you need to and you can start taking it. Even if you are not planning on getting pregnant it is vital to support the development of your future little one.