Folic acid when trying to conceive
Your pregnancy superhero
Facts about folic acid
Folic acid is known to help reduce the risks of neural tube
Does folic acid help you get pregnant?
Many mums wonder whether folic acid will help them get pregnant. While folic acid will not help you to conceive, it is widely accepted that folic acid is vital for supporting healthy neural tube development in the very early stages of pregnancy. For this reason, it's considered an essential supplement for every woman’s conception and pregnancy routine4.
Why folic acid is so important in the early days
In the first month of life an embryo’s neural tube, or spine and nervous system, is already beginning to develop1. This means there's a need to protect them against neural tube defects – before you even realise you are pregnant.
Studies show that taking folic acid during this time can enhance neural tube development into the brain. It can also help reduce the risk of neural tube defects, such as spina bifida (also known as
What is spina bifida?
Spina bifida occurs when the spine and spinal cord do not develop properly, leaving a gap in the spine. As the spinal cord connects the entire body to the brain, it can lead to a wide range of symptoms1.
The exact causes of spina bifida are not fully understood, but
What are the possible effects?
The symptoms of spina bifida include:
Cognitive problems – including a short attention span, difficulty solving problems, and difficulty with
Mobility issues – damage to the brain may lead to some mobility problems with most spina bifida sufferers needing to use a mobility aid or even a wheelchair.
Bladder and bowel problems – bowel and urinary incontinence can occur if the nerves running from the brain to the bladder through the spinal cord are damaged.
Taking the right amount of folic acid at the right time
To help reduce the risk of neural tube defects, you are advised to take 400 micrograms (0.4mg) of folic acid per day.
However, based on the outcome of a recent study, you may consider taking folic acid for much longer than this. The study looked at the effect folic acid had on having a preterm baby, and revealed a significant decrease in preterm delivery in women who took the supplement for a year before conceiving3.
Mums who might need an extra boost
- You have had a previously affected pregnancy
- You or a family member have a spinal cord defect
- You're taking medication for epilepsy
- You're obese with a BMI over 30
- You have coeliac disease, diabetes, sickle cell anaemia, or thalassaemia3
The gift of future health
1. NHS UK. Spina bifida [Online]. Available at: www.nhs.uk/conditions/Spina-bifida/Pages/Introduction.aspx[Accessed May 2014]
2. NHS UK. Causes of spina bifida [Online]. Available at: www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Spina-bifida/Pages/Causes.aspx [Accessed May 2014]
3. Patient UK. Diet and lifestyle during pregnancy [Online]. Available at: http://patient.info/health/diet-and-lifestyle-during-pregnancy [Accessed May 2014]
4. NHS UK. Vitamin and nutrition in pregnancy [Online]. Available at: www.nhs.uk/conditions/pregnancy-and-baby/pages/vitamins-minerals-supplements-pregnant.aspx [Accessed July 2014]
Last reviewed: 4th July 2016
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