Folic acid in pregnancy
Folic acid is one of the B Vitamins and is important during preconception and pregnancy. It is found naturally in many foods and often added to manufactured food such as fortified breakfast cereal, malt drinks and bread.
Folic acid helps your baby develop, is necessary for the formation of blood cells and also prevents neural tube defects, such as spina bifida. Deficiency can lead to megaloblastic anaemia (folate deficiency anaemia.)
Mindful Mum lists the;
- best natural sources of folate (the natural form of folic acid),
- latest UK recommendation on folic acid supplements,
- reason why you can stop taking folic acid supplements after 12 weeks.
How much folic acid?
Currently the UK Food Standards Agency recommends you take a 400 mcg (0.4 mg) folic acid tablet every day before you get pregnant and for the first 12 weeks of your pregnancy.
Speak to your GP if you have had any previous pregnancy with a neural tube defect, or if you are on any medication for epilepsy or have diabetes as you may need a higher dose.
You can buy folic acid supplements from chemists, supermarkets or health shops. Your GP can also prescribe folic acid, so do ask as it will save you a few pounds.
Folic acid naturally
- green leafy vegetables; asparagus, broccoli, spinach, brussels sprouts and kale (steam rather than boil to maintain the vitamins and folate)
- oranges, grapefruit, bananas
- pulses including, peas, kidney beans, chickpeas and lentils
- fortified breakfast cereals (remember to have the correct portion size)
- yeast extract (such as marmite)
- nuts, such as walnuts and hazelnuts
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When do I take folic acid and for how long?
If you are thinking about getting pregnant then start taking folic acid and start including foods rich in folate (see above) straight away.
You can stop taking folic acid supplements once you are 12 weeks into your pregnancy, but continue to include foods rich in folate.
Why do I stop taking folic acid supplements after 12 weeks?
There is no need to take folic acid supplements after your first trimester. Research on Australian mothers who continued to take folic acid supplements in late pregnancy shows there may be a link to asthma. While there is no link found between intake of folate naturally through your diet or folic acid intake in early pregnancy.
The key message is to take folic acid supplements one month before you are pregnant and for the first 12 weeks of your pregnancy.
The Guardian, Researchers link asthma risk to folic acid during pregnancy, 2009 Patient UK, Folic Acid Deficiency Anaemia, (Accessed 2010) FSA, Eat Well Be Well, Folic Acid Fortification, (Accessed 2010)