Why is Folic Acid important?

Research shows that half of pregnancies are unplanned, so if there is any possibility you could become pregnant it’s important you take a folic acid supplement every day

What is Folic Acid?

Folic acid is a water soluble vitamin that we can get from our food (called folates) or from supplements or foods that have it added to them (folic acid). Folate also helps our tissues to grow and the cells in our bodies work. It has many functions including helping to form red blood cells and helping to break down, use and create new proteins. It is also essential for the production of DNA, the building block of our bodies and which carries our genetic information. It is especially important in unborn babies because it helps the nervous system develop.  In the very first weeks of pregnancy, the neural tube closes and fuses.  The neural tube later becomes the baby’s brain and spinal cord.

Why should I take Folic Acid?

Folate (Folic Acid) cannot be stored in the body, so we need it in our diets every day to maintain enough quantities in your body. This is because folic acid is water-soluble (dissolves in water) and leftover amounts leave the body through the urine. So if you do not take folic acid tablets for even a few weeks, the amount in your blood can become very low.

Ideally, you should start taking a folic acid supplement about two months before conception and continue taking it until you’ve reached the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. This is why doctors recommend that all women of child-bearing age take folic acid supplements daily to prepare for pregnancies, both planned and unplanned. You will also find folic acid in your daily diet and foods rich in folate include orange juice, cereals, spinach, broccoli, peas, lentils, melon and asparagus. It is rare that women eat enough of these foods every day to reach the recommended amounts, so a supplement is advised.

How much Folic Acid should I take?

All adults need 200 micrograms per day and we can get this from eating a healthy, balanced diet. Women and teenagers who might become pregnant within the next year need 400 micrograms of folic acid as a supplement every day, as well as eating a healthy diet. Research shows that half of pregnancies are unplanned, so if there is any possibility you could become pregnant it’s important you take a folic acid supplement every day for at least 3 months before you get pregnant and continue to do so for the first 3 months of your pregnancy. It helps reduce the risk of serious birth defects of the brain and spine known as neural tube defects (or NTDs)

What is NTDs?

Neural Tube Defects (NTDs) happen when part of the unborn baby’s brain or spine doesn’t develop properly. Spina bifida is the most common NTD and literally means “split spine”. The spinal cord and surrounding bones (vertebrae) do not develop correctly and a gap or split occurs in the spine. The spinal cord may also be damaged. Taking folic acid daily as a supplement could potentially prevent up to two thirds of neural tube defects every year. 70% of cases of neural tube defects, such as spina bifida, could be prevented by taking a daily folic acid supplement in the correct dosage, at the correct time. In some cases there are other reasons why NTDs occur, but taking folic acid can help to prevent most NTDs.

Where can I get Folic Acid?

Folic acid tablets are available in all Haven Pharmacy stores nationwide, this vitamin doesn’t require a prescription and doesn’t cost more than a couple of cents a day. You can buy a single folic acid supplement or many multivitamin formulas for women also contain 400mcg of folic acid but to be sure always check the labels – some multivitamin supplements also provide Vitamin A, which is not recommended during pregnancy.

For more information contact your local Haven Pharmacy for advice.