Why it's vital to take folic acid from the moment you stop contraception, rather than waiting till you're pregnant
Take your folic acid if there's a chance you could get pregnant
All sexually active women who might become pregnant are being urged to make sure they're taking folic acid supplements right now.
The Go Folic campaign, launched yesterday at the House of Commons, hopes that improving womens' folic acid intake will reduce the incidence of Neural Tube Defects, such as Spina Bifida, which occcur in the very early weeks of pregnancy.
Every day in the UK, an average of two babies conceived will go on to develop a Neural Tube Defect. Neural Tube Defects can mean a baby won't live beyond the birth and many babies born with Spina Bifida (when the spinal cord does not fully close) face a life with serious, multiple disabilities. Up to 72% of these defects could be prevented if women took folic acid tablets at the right time and dosage.
Neural Tube Defects happen within the first 28 days of pregnancy, often before a woman knows she's pregnant, when the embryo's the size of a grain of rice. It's therefore essential that women take the correct dose of folic acid daily - ideally for three months - before they become pregnant.
A healthy balanced diet is not enough to achieve the required levels of folic acid to help prevent Neural Tube Defects.
Women need to take 400mcg of folic acid (also known as vitamin B9) daily prior to conception and for the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. Some women may need a higher dose, particularly if there is a family history of Spina Bifida or if the mother has diabetes of coeliac disease or if she takes anti-epileptic medicines. If you fall into these categories, see your GP for advice and to get folic acid on prescription.
Read more about why folic acid's so important. For more advice see www.gofolic.co.uk.