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Folic acid is a type of B vitamin that's recommended for women planning a pregnancy.

Taking folic acid supplements before getting pregnant and in the first part of pregnancy helps prevent neural tube defects. These are where the spinal cord in the baby's nervous system doesn't form normally. This can happen in conditions such as spina bifida.

What is folic acid?

Folic acid, also called folate, is a B vitamin. It plays a role in cell production and division, including the production of red blood cells.

How much folic acid is needed?

The Department of Health recommends a daily 400-microgram (mcg) folic acid supplement while you're trying to get pregnant and to keep taking it for the first 12 weeks of pregnancy.

A higher dose is recommended for women who are treated for epilepsy, diabetes and some other medical conditions, and who also have a personal or family history of neural tube defects. In these cases a 5 milligram (mg) supplement is usually suggested. Your GP will advise whether a higher 5mg daily dose is appropriate for you.

Where do I get folic acid?

GPs can advise on folic acid, and can prescribe tablets, or they are widely available in shops, including pharmacies.

In the case of an unexpected or unplanned pregnancy, start taking folic acid as soon as you know you are pregnant.

Foods high in folic acid

Some foods, such as breakfast cereals and bread are already fortified with folic acid and other vitamins and minerals.

Natural sources of folic acid include:

  • Broccoli
  • Peas
  • Asparagus
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Chickpeas
  • Brown rice
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