How long do you take folic acid for and when should you start?
Taking a folic acid supplement during pregnancy is now a proven piece of advice. But when, why and, gulp, does it matter if you miss one or two?
When should I start taking folic acid?
Some specialists recommend taking the supplement up to 6 months before you start trying for a baby, others suggest 3 months is a good idea.
So what if I'm already pregnant?
If you are already pregnant, start taking it now. And don't worry about missed time. The main thing is to start adding folic acid supplements to your diet as soon as you can.
IMPORTANT UPDATE (Sep 2021): The UK government has announced plans to fortify non-wholemeal wheat flour with folic acid. This does not change the NHS official advice to take a folic-acid supplement daily for the 12 weeks of pregnancy and while trying to conceive.
How long should I take folic acid for?
You're advised to take a daily supplement of folic acid for the first 12 weeks of your pregnancy. If you want to continue beyond this, that's fine. You can also continue to have a diet rich in folic acid (and other good baby-growing nutrients) by eating fresh green leafy vegetables.
If you're someone who likes to take a pregnancy supplement throughout your 9 months, that's fine too. But just make sure it is one formulated for pregnancy as some vitamins are not advised to be taken in large amounts when you're expecting.
If your GP or midwife is concerned about your iron levels, it's a good idea to take iron supplements in a multi-vitamin format rather than just as iron tablets, unless your GP has specifically prescribed them.
A note about folic acid and tongue tie (April 2018)
A scary Daily Mail headline suggested a possible link between taking folic acid in later pregnancy (after the first 3 months) and tongue tie.
Reports said that a journalist mum had been asked by her midwife at 14 weeks if she had stopped taking folic acid by that point in her pregnancy, as there was "some suggestion" that taking the supplement later on was linked to tongue tie.
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We contacted the Royal College of Midwives directly on this one: they told us they're not aware of any evidence to suggest a connection between taking folic acid in pregnancy and this leading to increases in incidences of tongue tie, and they support official guidelines for folic acid to be taken until at least the 12th week of pregnancy.
What if I'm already past 12 weeks pregnant?
While research shows that folic acid can reduce the risk of your baby developing brain and spinal cord defects, known as neural tube defects (NTDs), such as spina bifida. However, it is not the case at all that children born to women who have not taken folic acid will necessarily develop these issues. Instead, taking the supplement simply helps reduce the risk.
So, the message is (in case you haven't heard it yet) don't worry. If your pregnancy is further than 12 weeks, talk to your midwife or GP and ask for a recommendation of a good course of multi-vitamins or dietary changes that will keep you and your baby well looked after for the rest of your pregnancy.
What if I forget to take a day's tablet?
Again, don't worry. You'll be building up a good level of folic acid so if you forget to take your folic acid supplement for one or more days, it's very unlikely to have an effect. Simply return to your one-a-day routine and don't take several in one go to make up for lost days.
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