If you take folic acid tablets (supplements) in early pregnancy, you reduce the risk of having a baby born with a spinal cord problem, such as spina bifida. This is because the early development of the baby’s spinal cord requires a regular, good supply of folic acid. There is evidence that folic acid also reduces the risk of having a baby born with a cleft lip and palate, a heart defect (congenital heart disease) and a premature (preterm or early) labour.
It is recommended that you should also try to eat foods that contain folic acid, such as spinach, sprouts, broccoli, green beans, and potatoes. Some bread, breakfast cereals and margarines have folic acid added to them.
Ideally, start taking folic acid tablets before becoming pregnant. If you did not take folic acid before you conceived, you should start as soon as you find out that you are pregnant and continue right up until you are 12 weeks.
The normal dose is 400 micrograms of folic acid daily.
However you must see your GP for a higher dose of folic acid if:
- You, your partner or a family member have a spinal cord defect.
- You already have a baby with spina bifida.
- You have coeliac disease.
- You have diabetes.
- You take anti-epileptic medicines.
- Your Body Mass Index (BMI) is 30 or more.
No. Folic acid is a naturally occurring vitamin, which your body needs. It is not a drug (medicine).