Most people are now well aware of the link between folic acid and healthy pregnancies. However, most women will only receive a prescription for the supplement at the point at which their pregnancy is confirmed by their GP.
However, the most recent research shows that to get most benefit from supplementation it is best started as soon as possible, even before conception.
Why do I need folic acid?
Your body has increased needs for folic acid when cells are growing and dividing rapidly. At the very beginning of pregnancy, even before most women find out they are pregnant, folic acid plays an important role in the early development of the neural tube, the precursor to the brain and spinal cord in the foetus, which forms in weeks 3-4 of pregnancy. Neural tube defects such as spina bifida can happen when the neural tube doesn’t close properly. Ensuring optimal levels of folic acid at this point can help to reduce the risks of this happening.
Folic acid supports healthy pregnancy overall
In addition, research has shown that early supplementation with folic acid (ideally before conception) can have a positive impact on other markers of a healthy pregnancy including lower risk of preterm birth and lower risk of small-for-gestational-age birth.
Start to take folic acid as early as possible
The message is now loud and clear - folic acid supplementation is important in pregnancy, particularly during the pre-conception period and continuing throughout pregnancy. Our advice is to start taking a high quality pregnancy supplement that contains optimal levels of folic acid from the moment you start thinking about having a baby (at least 3 months before conception). That way you can ensure folate status builds up to an optimal level at the point of conception and during the first few weeks of pregnancy, which appears to be the critical time. Women would normally need 200mcg folic acid daily, yet this increases to over 400mcg per day when pregnant – the equivalent of eating well over a kilo of broccoli daily – taking a supplement is therefore a simple and effective way to ensure this higher intake.
Which form to take?
The most effective form of folic acid to take is 5-MTHF (5-methyltetrahydrofolate) – this is a body ready form that the body can use immediately. For genetic reasons, some people cannot make the conversion into this activated form so standard forms of folic acid may not be as effective. Since we don’t know which people can make the conversion and which can’t, it is advisable that everyone takes this already activated form to maximize the benefits of supplementation, and this is especially important during pregnancy. Make sure your pregnancy multi contains 400mcg folic acid in the form of 5-MTHF.