Preventing spina bifida 

The most effective way to prevent spina bifida is to take folic acid supplements before and during pregnancy.

Folic acid

You should take a 400 microgram folic acid tablet every day while you are trying to get pregnant and until you are 12 weeks pregnant. If you didn't take folic acid before you conceived, you should start as soon as you find out that you are pregnant.

Folic acid tablets are available on prescription or from pharmacies, supermarkets and health food stores.

You should also try to eat foods that contain folate (the natural form of folic acid), such as:

  • broccoli
  • peas
  • asparagus
  • Brussels sprouts
  • chickpeas 
  • brown rice
  • some bread, breakfast cereals and margarine

Read more about vitamins and nutrition in pregnancy.

Women at high risk

Women thought to be at higher risk of having a child with spina bifida need to be prescribed a higher (5 milligram) dose of folic acid by their GP.

This includes women who:

  • have a family history of neural tube defects
  • have a partner with a family history of neural tube defects
  • have had a previous pregnancy affected by a neural tube defect
  • have diabetes

Your GP can advise you on this.

Women who are taking medication to treat epilepsy should consult their GP for advice, as they may also need to take a higher dose of folic acid.

Page last reviewed: 26/02/2015

Next review due: 26/02/2017