Mellow Mummy: Folic Acid : When & Why ? : Taking life as it comes...

Thursday 3 November 2011

Folic Acid : When & Why ?

Earlier in the year when we decided to start trying for another child I started taking folic acid tablets straight away. I knew from my first pregnancy that I should take them during the early stages of pregnancy but until I met my new doctor, I hadn't realised you were actively recommended to take folic acid before attempting to get pregnant.

My GP advised taking folic acid tablets as soon as we started trying to conceive - in fact he said for a couple of months before that.

A recent survey by Holland & Barrett found that many women are starting to take folic acid supplements too late. The research revealed that 53% did not understand the need to take folic acid three months before conception as recommended, with 13% thinking they could wait until they were pregnant and 23% not believing that it would deliver any value at all.

Kate Butler, Holland & Barrett’s nutritionist, says:
“It’s important to take folic acid before becoming pregnant so levels build up because problems can develop within weeks of conception. Women need about 400 mcg a day, which they can get through taking a supplement or eating foods such as green, leafy vegetables, fruits likes oranges and bananas, and organ meats such as chicken liver.”

Folic acid is a vitamin (also known as B9) that helps the body to produce and reproduce cells - naturally our bodies aren't that good at storing folic acid and many UK adults don't eat enough of the foods that provide it in order to keep their levels high enough. This is why folic acid is added to a number of foods such as sliced bread and (as i discovered during my first pregnancy) milkshake flavouring!

In the very early stages of pregnancy, women need even high levels of folic acid than normal. The main reason for this is in the prevention of neural tube defects such as spina bifida in the foetus but it is also believed to reduce the risk of a premature delivery, especially when taken before conception.

I spoke to Angela Chalmers, Boots Parenting Club Pharmacist, about the reason why GPs recommend that you take a folic acid supplement as soon as you find out you are pregnant, or decide to start trying for a baby. Angela explained that the neural tube in the spine develops during the very early stages of pregnancy (before 28 days). Where the neural tube fails to close and the vertabrae of the spine fail to lock around the spinal cord, this can leave a small gap in the spine which can cause a cyst to form. This can cause paralysis and loss of control over the brain. Angela told me that there is strong evidence to show that women who take folic acid during pregnancy have a greatly reduced risk of giving birth to a child with a neural tube defect such as spina bifida.

For most mums, the recommended dose of folic acid during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy is 400mg but your GP will tell you if you need to take a stronger dose.

You can find out more about the reasons for taking folic acid before and during pregnancy at

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