Women who might become pregnant are recommended to take a daily tablet containing 400mcg of folic acid BEFORE they conceive and DURING the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. This advice applies to all women of child bearing age who are sexually active and either planning a pregnancy, or may become pregnant. Click on a question to find out more.
Your baby’s spine starts to grow within the first 28 days of pregnancy – often before you even know you are expecting.
Folic acid is a B Vitamin that helps reduce the occurrence of birth defects of the brain and spinal cord, called Neural Tube Defects (NTDs), of which spina bifida is the most common. The effects of NTDs can range from nerve damage to incomplete brain development in severe cases. Taking folic acid supplements at least three months prior to conception has been proven to significantly reduce the risk of spina bifida in your unborn child.
If you are planning a pregnancy or already pregnant, start taking folic acid supplements at once and continue each day until the end of your 12th week of pregnancy.
Additionally, as a high percentage of pregnancies are unplanned, the Association is recommending that all sexually active women of child bearing age in Scotland, who have any chance of an unplanned pregnancy, should also take folic acid regularly.
What is spina bifida?
Spina bifida is a Neural Tube Defect (NTD) which occurs in pregnancy. It is caused by the failure of the neural tube to close properly and the fault occurs in the first 28 days of pregnancy. This may result in multiple disabilities.
Many people born with spina bifida will be lifelong wheelchair users. The majority will also have hydrocephalus which can cause learning difficulties.
The knowledge that a simple B vitamin (folic acid) can help to prevent these lifelong disabilities is the spur for SBH Scotland to promote the “Are you getting enough?” campaign. Find out more »
What is folic acid?
Folic acid, known as folate in its natural form, is one of the B-group of vitamins. Folate is found in small amounts in many foods. Good sources include broccoli, brussels sprouts, asparagus, peas, chickpeas and brown rice.
Other useful sources include fortified breakfast cereals, some bread and some fruit (such as oranges and bananas).
If you a planning a pregnancy, or may become pregnant, the NHS suggest you should take a daily 0.4 mg (400 microgram) folic acid supplement during the time you are trying to conceive until the 12th week of pregnancy. You should also eat more foods containing folate (the natural form of folic acid). Find out more »
Why is folic acid important?
Folic acid helps your baby’s spine develop. Your baby’s spine starts to grow very early in pregnancy – often before you know you are expecting. This means it’s important to make sure you’re getting enough folic acid if you are planning to get pregnant.
A number of different studies over recent years have indicated a significant variation in reduction of Neural Tube Defects ranging from 20% to 80% as a result of taking folic acid, and this is generally because there are so many factors to take into consideration which would have an impact on the efficacy of folic acid supplementation.
For example, issues such as what sort of food you eat, whether you have had a previous pregnancy affected or have a history of spina bifida in your family, or indeed where you live, may all have an impact on the results.
However, overall it has been shown to statistically help reduce the chances of spina bifida affecting your pregnancy. Find out more »
How much folic acid do I need?
Folate is a water-soluble vitamin, which means you need it in your diet every day because it can't be stored in the body.
Most people should be able to get the amount they need by eating a varied and balanced diet. Adults need 0.2 mg a day, however the NHS recommend that you should take a daily 0.4 mg (400 microgram) folic acid supplement from the time you stop using contraception and are trying to conceive, until the 12th week of pregnancy. This is to help prevent Neural Tube Defects such as spina bifida.
Some women need to take a higher (5 milligram) dose of folic acid:
- If you or your partner has a NTD or a family history of NTD
- Those with diabetes
- Those taking anti-epilepsy medication
- Those with coeliac disease
These women should ask their GP for a higher dose of 5mg, which is only available on prescription.
A recent study has suggested that women who are overweight may also be at increased risk of having babies with spina bifida and should seriously consider trying to lose weight prior to planning a pregnancy.
Where can I buy folic acid?
Folic acid is easily available in most supermarkets and pharmacies.
Please consult your doctor or local pharmacist for advice on taking folic acid supplements.
About our campaign
The aim of the “Are you getting enough?” campaign in Scotland is to find new ways to increase folate intake to prevent Neural Tube Defects (NTD), of which spina bifida is the most common.
This is particularly relevant for all sexually active women of child bearing age in Scotland, as historically Scotland has had a higher prevalence of NTDs than the rest of Europe (Eurocat 2010). The latest figures available in Scotland confirms that over 1 in every 1000 pregnancies are affected. (SPMMR 2010).
Unfortunately, a recent study has revealed that over 50%* of women in Scotland are still not taking folic acid prior to pregnancy.
Additionally, as most pregnancies are unplanned, the Association is therefore recommending that all sexually active women of child bearing age in Scotland who are thinking of becoming pregnant or might get pregnant by accident, should be taking folic acid regularly. Compliance could prevent up to 72% of NTDs. Sadly, most women do not follow the recommendations and so NTD rates remain stubbornly high.
This is why we urgently need a new campaign to increase women’s awareness in Scotland on the benefits of taking folic acid.
To find out more about the “Are you getting enough? ” campaign, click here.
*Bradshaw, P., Bromley, C., Hill, T., Mabelis, J., Parkes, A., Smith, K., Sweeting, H., Warner, P. and Wight, D. (2013) Growing Up in Scotland: Birth Cohort 2 - Results from the first year, Edinburgh: Scottish Government.
Adding quality to life. Every day.
Spina Bifida Hydrocephalus Scotland is the only Scottish charity dedicated to providing specialist advice and support to over 3000 people in Scotland affected by the lifelong and complex disabilities of spina bifida and/or hydrocephalus.
We are currently self-funded and have to raise £1 million every year to continue providing support to everyone that has been affected.
To contact us please click here.
For all folic acid enquiries please email firstname.lastname@example.org.