The importance of folic acid during pregnancy

Dr Christine Catling

Dr Christine Catling

Dr Christine Catling, a midwife for over 25 years, is the Director of Midwifery Studies at UTS. She believes research, innovation and good quality midwifery are pivotal to the well-being of mothers and young families. Christine has extensive experience in antenatal education, policy development and research, and has published on workforce issues, homebirth, vaginal birth...
Updated on Jun 14, 2024 · 2 mins read
The importance of folic acid during pregnancy

As soon as you fall pregnant, you will no doubt start hearing about all of the things you should or shouldn’t be taking. Being healthy is the highest priority, but which vitamins are actually needed? If you have already visited your doctor/midwife or were actively trying to fall pregnant, you would have no doubt been recommended to take Folic Acid.

What exactly is folic acid?

Folic acid is man-made and comes from the B vitamin folate. It’s a synthetic form of folate which can also be found naturally in numerous fortified foods and supplements. Foods like leafy green veggies, nuts, citrus fruit, and legumes pack a whole bunch of folate, making them important to eat during pregnancy. However, it’s extremely important to take it in supplement form in order to get the necessary nutrients.

What does folic acid do?

Overall, this magic vitamin helps you to create DNA and new cells (some pretty big tasks). These actions are categorised as healthy body development and growth. Why is this specifically important for pregnant women? Well, it helps to develop your baby’s nervous system, especially their neural tube.

What is a neural tube?

The neural tube is the scientific term for the part of the baby that develops into the brain and spinal cord 28 days after conception. Sadly, there are cases of neural tube defects every year where the baby’s neural tube did not close correctly. This leads to issues like spina bifida or encephalocele which require surgery and may lead to paralysis or disability. Not meaning to scare you, but these are just a few of the concerns to think about.

Before you worry too much, folic acid works to prevent issues like this by building up sufficient amounts of necessary nutrients. This can also fend off possible problems with heart or birth defects. Although these health concerns can’t be completely avoided or blamed on folic acid, taking this vitamin will nonetheless help, according to doctors.

How much and when should you be taking it?

If you were actively trying to get pregnant, you would have been advised to start taking it 12 weeks before conception and up until 12 weeks after. However, if your pregnancy is a surprise to you, speak with your GP and you can start taking it based on their advice. It is suggested to take 400 micrograms daily to help to support your baby’s development and if you experience any negative side effects, you should reach out to your GP.

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