Folic Acid During Pregnancy

Folic acid is a mineral which is extremely important for a healthy pregnancy. Any source providing information about pregnancies and any related health issues will emphasise the importance of supplementing folic acid as early as before you even conceive. This article deals with what folic acid is, what it does that is so important during a pregnancy, where you can get it from, and how much of it you need.

What is folic acid?

It may surprise you to find out that folic acid is just another name for vitamin B9, which might also be referred to as folacin or folate. Vitamins are small molecules which we need to include in our diet (or supplement) in small amounts. Because they are needed in relatively small quantities, vitamins are referred to as micronutrients. This vitamin is used extensively by the body for a number of different functions.

What is folic acid used for?

Folic acid, aka vitamin B9, is used for a wide range of important roles. A classic example is the part this substance has to play in the synthesis and repair of DNA, the substance which encodes the genes which dictate virtually everything about our bodies. As you can imagine, this is one of the most vital roles that folate has to play in human development as well as our body’s basic day to day function.

Folic acid during pregnancy

During pregnancy folic acid has a vital role to play in the healthy growth and development of a foetus, namely in the formation and growth of a structure called the neural tube. The neural tube is basically the precursor to the central nervous system, which will later form the brain and spinal cord. Defects in neural tube development caused by folic acid deficiency can have detrimental consequences on the future health of an unborn child.

Folic acid deficiency

An in sufficient amount of a particular vitamin in our diet is called a deficiency, and folic acid deficiency results in a number of distinctive symptoms. These include anaemia (a condition where blood cells don’t function as they should), diarrhoea, damage to the nerves which can present as either limb weakness or numbness, a sense of confusion and forgetfulness, depression, irritability, and headaches amongst others.

During a pregnancy folic acid deficiency can increase the chances of a premature birth, cause an abnormally low birth weight, and quite often impact the development of the foetus because of the important role folic acid plays in the development of a healthy nervous system.

A complete deficiency of folic acid is very uncommon in the UK, and is in fact more likely during a pregnancy where the daily recommended amount of folic acid is considerably higher (about twice as much as usual at around 800 micrograms). 

Where can I get folic acid from?

Folic acid can be found in any leafy green vegetables, which is in fact where the vitamin gets its name from (folic is derived from the Latin word for leaf, ‘folium). One of the reasons why folic acid deficiencies are so uncommon in the UK is because many breakfast cereals and other foods are now fortified with additional vitamin Bs, including folic acid.

On top of dietary folic acid, you can in fact supplement folic acid from multi-vitamins or specially designed prenatal vitamins which are rich in folic acid. The NHS recommends supplementing about 400mg of folic acid on a daily basis prior to and during a pregnancy (up until the 12 week point at least).

You can expect to receive a lot of information about how important folic acid is during your initial appointments once you become pregnant, which should emphasise just how critical it is to make sure that you are receiving the right amounts of this substance.

« Supplementing Vitamins and Minerals During Pregnancy Vitamin D During Pregnancy »