What is Folic Acid?
Folic acid is a vitamin which is also known as B9. Vitamin B9 can be naturally found in many foods including green vegetables especially leafy varieties, pulses and some fruit. This type of folic acid is often referred to a ‘folate’. There are also many foods which are fortified with folic acid including breads and many breakfast cereals. Folic acid is also included in almost all multivitamin tablets designed for women are planning a pregnancy and also those who are already pregnant.
Folic acid tablets are also available for purchase from most supermarkets and chemists. It may also be possible to get your doctor to prescribe folic acid for you too. This type of folic acid is referred to as ‘synthetic’.
It is extremely difficult to get the recommended daily dose from foods alone and so it is best to take a daily supplement if possible.
Why do I need Folic Acid?
It is recommended that women take 400mcg of folic acid every day from conception until at least the 12thweek of pregnancy. Some doctors will also recommend a folic acid supplement up to 3 months prior to conception. This is because folic acid can help protect your baby from being born with a Neural Tube Defect (NTD) such as spina bifida. Spina bifida is when the spinal cord which contains all the nerves from your baby’s brain to body is not sealed properly into the body. Most of your baby’s brain and nervous system form within the first trimester which is why it is important to take a folic acid supplement during this time
It is also thought that daily folic acid can also help your baby to reach full term and reduce the risk of being born prematurely.
Should I see my doctor?
Your midwife will ask you during your booking in appointment if you are taking a folic acid supplement and if you are not, she may suggest that you start and ensure that you are eating healthily. However, there is no need to see a doctor unless:
- You have had a child who was born with a NTD. This is because the risks of subsequent children also having a NTD are increased and your doctor may prescribe you a higher dose of daily folic acid and more regular antenatal appointments and screenings. This risk is also greater if you or the baby’s father was born with a NTD.
- If you are on certain prescribed medications including those for epilepsy or coeliac disease, your doctor may also prescribe a higher dosage of folic acid.
- If you have diabetes, you may also need a higher daily dose of folic acid.
- If you have a high BMI (Body mass index), your doctor may also prescribe a higher dose.
Common questions about Folic acid
- Can I eat liver whilst pregnant? Although liver is very high in folic acid, it is NOT safe for pregnant women or those trying to conceive as it is also very high in vitamin A which can cause birth defects if too much is consumed.
- Can I take folic acid throughout my pregnancy? Yes. Although many women stop taking folic acid as they enter the second trimester, many also continue to take their daily supplement throughout their pregnancy and this causes no harm or problems for you or your baby.
- What can I do if I cannot swallow tablets? Many people struggle to swallow tablets and often multi-vitamin tablets are quite large which can make it more difficult. However, if you ask your pharmacist for advice, you may be able to find a chewable variety or liquid form. It is also possible to buy folic acid tablets which come in very small round pills.
- What if I forget to take my supplement every day? If you forget your tablet one day, it is important not to worry or stress too much as one day should not make a very large difference. However, you could try taking your tablet at the same time that you eat breakfast or clean your teeth. You could try leaving the packet or bottle in a visible place where you see it every day (although keep out of reach of any children). You could also try programming an alarm into your mobile phone.
- Can I take too much folic acid? Folic acid does not have any known toxic levels and therefore a healthy woman would not be able to have too much folic acid. However, if you think there may be a chance that you have taken two or more supplement tablets in one day by accident, you should seek medical advice from your doctor or midwife.
If you have any questions regarding folic acid or would like more advice, you should speak to your midwife, doctor or pharmacist who will be able to help you.
by Jenny, mum to William and James