Folic Acid – The Pre-Conception Care You Need

August 29, 2020Grace Firmin-Guion BA (Hons)

If you’re taking your first steps down the path to parenthood, you’ve probably considered ways in which you can improve both yours and your future child’s health. With an abundance of information available and so many people claiming to be fertility “experts”, how do you know which supplements are beneficial for you, and how can you spot the fads?

Folic acid is considered a biggie in the pre-conception care world, so if you’re trying for a baby you’ve probably heard about it – and for good reason. Whilst it might be well known, what makes folic acid so important? And when should you be taking it? We’ve broken down what it is and its importance to ensure you’re clued up on your pre-conception care.

What is folic acid? 

Folic acid is the man-made version of the vitamin folate, a form of vitamin B9. It is used by our bodies to make new cells and is needed to support the rapid growth of foetal tissues and organs in early pregnancy. Unfortunately, our bodies do not store folic acid, which is why we must get our supply from certain foods and supplements.

Why should you take it?

Folic acid is important in helping your unborn child’s brain, skull and spinal cord to develop properly and reduces the risk of potential neural tube defects, such as spina bifida by 70%. Whilst spina bifida is not that common, it can create significant problems for its sufferers that affect everyday life, such as; problems with mobility and movement, bladder and bowel problems and learning difficulties. 

  It is also used to:

  • treat or prevent folate deficiency anaemia – a lack of folate can lead to your body being unable to create healthy red blood cells.
  • help reduce side effects from methotrexate, a medicine used to treat severe arthritis, Crohn’s disease or psoriasis

When should you start taking it?

If you’re looking to add some mini members to your family, it is ideal to start taking folic acid around three months before you throw out your contraception or actively start trying. A baby’s neural tube develops within the first weeks of pregnancy, often before you even find out you’re pregnant, so taking it early on helps to reduce any risks. Some doctors may even suggest for you to take folic acid daily whilst you are of reproductive age in case of any unplanned pregnancies.

You should continue to take folic acid throughout your pre-conception journey until you are 12 weeks pregnant and the baby’s neural tube is fully formed. 

How much should you take?

The advised amount of folic acid to take daily is 400mcg. However, some may need a higher dose of if they have a higher risk of having a pregnancy affected by neural tube defects. 

You may have a higher risk if: 

  • You have diabetes 
  • You or your partner either have or have a history of neural tube defects
  • You have epilepsy
  • You are a heavy drinker.

In these cases, your doctor will be able to advise the correct dosage you should be consuming to keep your child protected. 

Which foods contain natural forms of folic acid?

You can also find the natural form of folic acid or folate, in certain foods. Introducing these to your diet will increase your folate levels:

  • Broccoli
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Asparagus
  • Green peas and chickpeas
  • Leafy green vegetables such as spinach, kale or cabbage.

However, the amount in these foods is not enough to provide your baby with the best protection, so it is important to add the tablet-form to your daily routine too. 

If you’re planning for the future and thinking about adding to your family, we would also suggest checking in on your reproductive hormones to help highlight any red-flags in your fertility. Our at-home hormone tests can provide you with an insight into your reproductive health, so you can optimise your chances of conception.

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