The Importance of Folic Acid in Pregnancy

As an expectant mum, you will receive an abundance of information, but taking folic acid in pregnancy is one piece of advice you should really pay attention to.

Women who are newly pregnant or trying for a baby are advised to take folic acid supplements. The latest guidelines from the NHS recommend that folic acid be taken until 12 weeks of pregnancy to help a baby grow normally.

Folic Acid in Pregnancy

What is folic acid?

Alongside a healthy and balanced diet, folic acid is an important supplement that should be taken during pregnancy. 

Folic acid is a man-made version of the vitamin ‘folate’ (also known as vitamin B9). Folate helps the body to make healthy red blood cells, and can be found in certain foods.

During pregnancy, folic acid can help to reduce the risk of problems in baby’s development in the early weeks. It can aid the proper development of an unborn baby’s brain, skull and spinal cord to avoid other problems – called neural tube defects – such as spina bifida.

Folic acid-rich foods

Folic acid aids the development of a foetus in early pregnancy.

The natural form of folic acid, folate, or vitamin B9, can be found in certain foods and eaten as part of a balanced diet. It is, however, difficult to consume enough of the vitamin required for a healthy pregnancy from food alone, which is why a supplement is advised. 

Folic acid is a water-soluble vitamin, which means that it can be lost from vegetables during cooking. It is therefore best to steam or microwave vegetables instead of boiling them.

Folic acid can be found in:

  • Green, leafy vegetables, such as spinach, kale, brussels sprouts, cabbage, and broccoli
  • Beans and legumes
  • Oranges and orange juice
  • Yeast and beef extracts
  • Wheat bran and other whole-grain foods
  • Poultry, pork, shellfish and liver (although pregnant women should follow advice on which of these to avoid)
  • Fortified foods such as breakfast cereals

What other vitamins and minerals are advised for pregnancy?

It is also recommended that pregnant women take a daily vitamin D supplement to regulate the amount of calcium and phosphate in the body.

There are also vitamins to avoid during pregnancy, such as cod liver oil. Therefore, to reduce anxiety and confusion, pregnant women may prefer to take a pregnancy supplement that combines each of the recommended vitamins and minerals. These are safe to take at all stages of conception, pregnancy and postpartum.

Is folic acid safe for everyone?

As with any medicine or supplements, some people can have adverse reactions. 

For most adults and children, folic acid is safe.

The NHS website recommends a consultation with a doctor before starting folic acid if the person has:

  • Had an allergic reaction to folic acid or any other medicine in the past
  • Has low vitamin B12 levels (vitamin B12 deficiency anaemia) or pernicious anaemia
  • Has cancer (unless they also have folate deficiency anaemia)
  • Are having a type of kidney dialysis called haemodialysis 
  • Has a stent in the heart

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