Why take folic acid before pregnancy

How much folic acid should I take?

Most women are advised to take a 400mcg supplement every day. You can get these from most pharmacies, supermarkets, and health food shops. Your GP may also be able to prescribe them to you.


You can also get folic acid in some pregnancy multivitamin tablets. If you do, make sure the tablet does not contain vitamin A. High doses of vitamin A can cause developmental problems in the first three months of pregnancy.


You can also try to eat foods that contain folate. These include:



brussels sprouts





fortified breakfast cereals.

Eating foods high in folate alone will not be enough to give the best protection to the baby so it is important to take the tablet too.


Some people need a higher dose of folic acid

If you have a higher risk of having a pregnancy affected by neural tube defects you will be advised to take a higher dose of 5mg folic acid.


You may have a higher risk if:


you have diabetes

you or your partner have a neural tube defect

you have had a previous pregnancy affected by a neural tube defect

you or your partner have a family history of neural tube defects

you have epilepsy

you are a heavy drinker.

To get a higher dose talk to your doctor because 5mg tablets aren’t available without a prescription.


Where do I get folic acid?

Folic acid can be found in lots of branded pre-pregnancy vitamins. These are not harmful but can sometimes be expensive. It is often cheaper to buy folic acid separately rather than buying expensive branded supplements.


Do not take vitamin A supplements or any supplements containing vitamin A, such as liver or fish oil. High doses of Vitamin A can cause developmental problems in the first three months of pregnancy.


If you receive certain benefits or are under 18 you may be eligible for free vitamins when you become pregnant.


Healthy Start

Healthy Start is a UK-wide scheme that provides free vitamins, including folic acid. You also get free weekly vouchers for milk, plain fresh and frozen fruit and vegetables and infant formula milk.


You qualify if you are on benefits and: 

you are at least 10 weeks pregnant

have children under the age of four

All pregnant women under the age of 18 qualify – whether they are on benefits or not.


To find out more and apply visit Healthy Start or call 0345 607 6823


I think I’m already pregnant but haven’t been taking folic acid. What do I do?

Don’t worry, the risk of problems is small. Start taking folic acid now and until week 12 if you have not reached it yet. You don’t need to take after 12 weeks folic acid (though it is not harmful) as the neural tube will have fully developed. You can talk to your GP or midwife if you have any concerns.


I’ve been trying to get pregnant but haven’t been taking folic acid supplements. Should I stop trying to conceive?

Ideally, you should take folic acid supplements for two to three months before you conceive and until you are 12 weeks pregnant.


But try not to worry if you haven’t started taking the supplements yet and start taking it now. You can talk to your GP or midwife if you have any concerns.

How Long After Taking Folic Acid Will I Get Pregnant?

Everybody is different when it comes to fertility and the likelihood of conceiving. Folic acid supplements are not guaranteed to help you get pregnant but are an essential nutrient that every woman should take when planning to get pregnant. So kick off your day with a green smoothie, freshly squeezed orange juice, or a handful of almonds. You’ll be glad you did!


Foods like leafy green vegetables including spinach, kale, and arugula are rich in folic acid.

Legumes, which include beans, peas, and lentils, are another great source of folic acid.

Folic acid can also be found in citrus juices, asparagus, beets, and nuts.

Vitamins, supplements and nutrition in pregnancy

Eating a healthy, varied diet in pregnancy will help you get most of the vitamins and minerals you need.


But when you're pregnant, or there's a chance you might get pregnant, it’s important to also take a folic acid supplement.


It's recommended that you take:


400 micrograms of folic acid every day – from before you're pregnant until you're 12 weeks pregnant

This is to reduce the risk of problems in the baby's development in the early weeks of pregnancy.


It is also recommended that you take a daily vitamin D supplement.


Do not take cod liver oil or any supplements containing vitamin A (retinol) when you're pregnant. Too much vitamin A could harm your baby. Always check the label.


You also need to know which foods to avoid in pregnancy.


Where to get pregnancy supplements

You can get supplements from pharmacies and supermarkets, or a GP may be able to prescribe them for you.


If you want to get your folic acid from a multivitamin tablet, make sure the tablet does not contain vitamin A (or retinol).


You may be able to get free vitamins if you qualify for the Healthy Start scheme.


Find out more about the Healthy Start scheme.


Folic acid before and during pregnancy

It’s important to take a 400 micrograms folic acid tablet every day before you're pregnant and until you're 12 weeks pregnant.


Folic acid can help prevent birth defects known as neural tube defects, including spina bifida.


If you did not take folic acid before you conceived, you should start as soon as you find out you're pregnant.


Try to eat green leafy vegetables which contain folate (the natural form of folic acid) and breakfast cereals and fat spreads with folic acid added to them.

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