Women urged to take folic acid supplement daily

All women who could become pregnant are being encouraged to take folic acid every day irrespective of whether they are planning to have a baby or not.

Folic acid is a B-group vitamin, which is known to reduce the risk of neural tube defects (NTDs) in babies. NTDs are birth defects of the brain and spinal cord. One of the most common types of NTD is spina bifida, a defect in which the spinal column fails to form properly.

The vitamin should be taken in the three months before conception and for the first three months of the pregnancy. However, as up to half of all pregnancies are thought to be unplanned, women of childbearing age who are sexually active are recommended to take it.

Taking a 400 microgram supplement every day could potentially prevent up to two-thirds of NTDs - that means around 50 fewer babies would be born with these defects annually.

Safefood has launched a new campaign aimed at raising awareness of the importance of taking folic acid. As part of this campaign, it carried out a survey of over 1,400 women aged 18 or older, which found that the most common barrier to taking the vitamin was a belief that it had little relevancy to the person involved.

Other barriers includes a lack of advice about it and a belief that contraception is 100% effective. Almost one in three women admitted that they simply forget to take it.

"For a healthy mum and baby, the only way to get adequate levels of folic acid is by taking it every day as a 400 microgram supplement. There has been some recent debate about fortification of foods with folic acid, but this is still some way off. Even with fortified foods, taking the daily supplement provides best protection of the unborn baby's spine and brain," explained Dr Cliodhna Foley-Nolan of Safefood.

She pointed out that folic acid is widely available, does not cost much and does not require a prescription.

"By taking folic acid daily, women are taking control of their own health. Taking folic acid doesn't mean you are planning a baby, but it does mean that if you do have a baby, however unplanned or far in the future that may be, you are already helping to protect their health," she noted.

Also speaking about the campaign, Dr Rhona Mahony, Master of the National Maternity Hospital, Holles Street, pointed out that up to 50% of all pregnancies are unplanned, so it is important that ‘all women who could become pregnant start taking folic acid daily, even if a baby is the last thing on their mind'.

"A baby's neural tube develops in the first few weeks of pregnancy when many women may be unaware they are pregnant and for this reason they need to make folic acid part of their daily routine," she explained.

The Safefood campaign, ‘Babies Know the Facts About Folic', is supported by Spina Bifida Hydrocephalus Ireland and Shine Northern Ireland, and will feature on social and digital media.

For more information, click here or tweet using the hashtag #FolicFacts


[Posted: Wed 15/06/2016]

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