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Why do I need folic acid in pregnancy?

Folic acid is very important for the development of a healthy foetus. It can significantly reduce the chance of neural tube defects (NTDs), such as spina bifida.

How much you should take

It's recommended that all women who could get pregnant should take a daily supplement of 400 micrograms of folic acid before they're pregnant and during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, when the baby's spine is developing.

If you did not take folic acid supplements before getting pregnant, you should start taking them as soon as you find out you're pregnant.

You can get them from pharmacies, large supermarkets, health food stores, or on prescription from a GP.

When higher doses are needed

Some women will be advised to take a higher dose of 5 milligrams (5mg) of folic acid each day until they're 12 weeks pregnant if they have a higher chance of having a pregnancy affected by neural tube defects.

You may have a higher chance if:

  • you or the baby's biological father have a neural tube defect
  • you previously had a pregnancy affected by a neural tube defect
  • you or the baby's biological father have a family history of neural tube defects
  • you have diabetes
  • your'e taking anti-epilepsy medicine

If any of the above applies to you, talk to a GP. They can prescribe a higher dose of folic acid.

The GP or your midwife may also recommend additional screening tests during your pregnancy.

Dietary sources of folic acid

Folic acid is found in foods like leafy green vegetables, brown rice, granary bread and breakfast cereals fortified with folic acid.

You should try to eat plenty of these foods during your pregnancy, but it would be almost impossible to get enough folic acid just from food.

The only way to be sure you're getting the right amount is by taking a supplement.

Further information

Page last reviewed: 16 March 2018
Next review due: 16 March 2021