Folic acid: What it is and why it’s recommended

folic acid recommendation

One recommendation you’ve more than likely heard if you’re planning to get pregnant (or have just found out that you are!), is to start taking a folic acid supplement. But why? Here is everything you need to know about folic acid…

What is folic acid?

Folic acid is an essential B vitamin. B vitamins help you to convert food carbohydrates into fuel for your body, known as glucose, to give you energy. Folic acid is found in some foods like leafy green vegetables, wholemeal breads and cereals. But when you’re pregnant, it’s difficult to get all the folic acid you need from your diet alone. That’s why it’s advised that you take a folic acid supplement when you’re pregnant.

Why do you take folic acid in pregnancy?

During the first 12 weeks of pregnancy your baby’s spine and brain is developing. Getting enough folic acid throughout pregnancy helps to protect the development of your baby’s brain and spinal cord. It also helps to reduce the risk of your baby being born with birth defects such as spina bifida.

When to start taking folic acid?

If you’re planning to get pregnant and have started trying to conceive, you should start to take folic acid supplements at the same time. This will help improve your health prior to pregnancy.

If you haven’t been taking folic acid before you have conceived, it’s advisable to start taking it once you know that you’re pregnant.

How much folic acid should I take?

A daily 400 microgram tablet is the recommended dose and to be taken until 12 weeks of pregnancy (NICE guidelines).

In some circumstances it may be recommended that you take an increased dose of 5mg folic acid daily if your baby needs extra protection. Your midwife or GP will advise you of this. Some of the circumstances can be if you have previously had a baby born with a neural tube defect.

Only increase your intake if you have been advised by your GP or midwife- even though folic acid is important, taking too much could be problematic.

Where can I get folic acid supplements from?

You can get supplements from pharmacies and supermarkets, or if you’re pregnant your GP can prescribe them to you for free.

If you’d prefer to take folic acid in a multivitamin, you can also buy these from pharmacies and supermarkets, but sure the tablet does not contain vitamin A (or retinol). It’s worth checking whether you are eligible to get them for free from the NHS healthy start scheme as well!

What foods have folic acid in them?

folic acid foods

Folic acid in its natural form is called folate (sometimes called folacin and vitamin B9). Here are a list of good foods during pregnancy that naturally contain folate:

  • broccoli
  • brussels sprouts
  • leafy green vegetables, such as; cabbage, kale, spring greens and spinach
  • peas
  • chickpeas and kidney beans
  • breakfast cereals fortified with folic acid

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