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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, brussel sprouts, asparagus, peas, chickpeas and brown rice.

Other useful sources of folic acid include fortified breakfast cereals, some bread and some fruit (such as oranges and bananas).

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, or could fall pregnant by accident.

Why is folic acid important?

Folic acid has been proven to reduce the number of pregnancies affected by a neural tube defect of which spina bifida is the most common.

Taking folic acid prior to conception can also reduce the risk of other congenital anomalies (such as congenital heart defects, urinary tract anomalies, oral facial clefts, limb defects). (De-Regil LM et al, 2010).

How much do I need?

Folic acid 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, healthy and balanced diet. Adults need 0.2 mg a day and that can normally be achieved through a varied and balanced diet.

However the NHS recommend that females 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. As 50% of pregnancies are unplanned SBH Scotland recommend that all females who could fall pregnant take a daily folic acid tablet as part of your daily routine.

Some females have an increased risk of having a baby with a neural tube defect and they need a higher dose of folic acid.

What happens if I take too much?

Folic acid is a water soluble vitamin which is not stored in the body and therefore any ingested folic acid which is not needed is simply excreted out of the body. Prolonged intake of large doses of folic acid can make a particular type of anaemia more difficult to diagnose but this is very uncommon in women of child-bearing age.

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