Animation: Why Folate & Folic Acid Are Important When You’re Trying for a Baby
Discover the benefits of folate and folic acid when you are trying for a baby, and learn how to get enough for a healthy pregnancy
4 min read
As well as stockpiling sleep and enjoying leisurely brunches, there are other things you can do to prepare for a baby. One of the most important is taking folic acid, both while you’re trying to conceive and once you’re pregnant.
In this article, we’ll explore what folate and folic acid are, why they’re important when you’re trying to conceive and once you’re pregnant and how much you need to take.
What is folate and folic acid?
Folate is an essential B vitamin important for cell growth and reproduction. If you don’t get enough folate, you’re at risk of a blood disorder called megaloblastic anaemia. Folate is found naturally in green leafy veg like spinach and broccoli, citrus fruit, wholemeal bread, liver and legumes.
Folic acid is the man-made version of folate. It’s more easily absorbed than folate that’s found in food.
It’s difficult to get enough folate from food to support a healthy pregnancy and baby development. If you tucked into green leafy veg and citrus fruit to up your folate intake, you’d have to eat around 500g of raw spinach or 900g of boiled spinach or raw broccoli each day to get the recommended amount of folate. That’s why it makes sense to just take 1 folic acid supplement a day.
Why do I need to take folic acid when I’m trying for a baby?
Because extensive studies have shown that folic acid can help ensure the healthy development of your baby in early pregnancy. It’s especially important in reducing the risk of neural tube defects (NTDs).
Neural tube defects
NTDs are a group of birth defects where the baby’s brain or spinal cord (or their covering) hasn’t developed properly. The most common types of NTDs are spina bifida and anencephaly.
Spina bifida happens when the spine doesn’t close properly during the first month of pregnancy. It can cause walking, bowel and bladder problems. Anencephaly means a baby is born with an underdeveloped brain and incomplete skull. Most babies born with this only live a few hours after birth.
When should I take folic acid?
Once you’ve decided to try to get pregnant, start taking folic acid. Take it every day for 4 weeks (1 month) before you might become pregnant.
If you didn’t take folic acid before getting pregnant, start taking it as soon as you find out you’re pregnant.
You can pick up folic acid tablets from pharmacies. Or your GP can prescribe them for you, it should be cheaper.
Should I take folic acid when I’m pregnant?
Absolutely. Keep taking folic acid for the first 12 weeks of pregnancy – this is a crucial time in your baby’s spine development.
How much folic acid do I need?
Take a daily supplement of 400mcg of folic acid.
If you’re at higher risk of neural tube defects, your GP might recommend a higher daily dose of folic acid: 5mg. You might be at higher risk if you:
- Or your partner have a neural tube defect.
- Previously had a pregnancy affected by a neural tube defect.
- Or your partner have a family history of neural tube defects.
- Have diabetes.
If this sounds like you, talk to your GP. They can prescribe a higher dose of folic acid.
Chat to your GP if you’re taking anti-epileptic medication – you may also need a higher dose.
If you’re thinking about getting pregnant, check out our pre-pregnancy healthy eating guide.