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Myth: you have to take folic acid throughout pregnancy to prevent birth defects

Myth busting time! This time we’re talking folic acid!

Folic acid is taken ideally pre-conception and throughout early pregnancy to prevent neural tube defects, as well as heart defects, other general congenital malformations, autistic disorders, and birth size. The neural tube forms the beginnings of baby’s spinal cord and brain, during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. This is why it’s recommended to take pregnancy vitamin supplements, which are high in folic acid.

But hands up who’s past 12 weeks and still popping those pregnancy supplements?

So what’s the problem?

Pregnancy vitamin supplements typically contain around 400 µg of folic acid. These vitamins are taken throughout pregnancy, beyond the 12 week mark, typically until birth. The World Health Organisation (WHO) states that the protection against neural tube defects (NTDs) only happens when supplementation of folic acid occurs until the fourth gestational week.

Although research confirms unequivocally that taking folic acid in early pregnancy is important to prevent congenital defects in babies, there is also research indicating continued folic acid supplementation may cause health issues for baby, particularly allergy and respiratory problems, and potentially autism.

Our foods such as breakfast cereals are already fortified with additional folic acid. We get natural forms of folate from dark leafy green vegetables, beans and lentils, and the U.K. government will be additionally fortifying all non-wholemeal flour with folic acid to prevent birth defects. Whilst this is great for anyone who’s pregnant and doesn’t know it, there’s some evidence to show high folic acid supplementation in later pregnancy may be causing allergies, respiratory issues and autism in children.

It’s worth getting advice on pregnancy diet and vitamins if you’d like alternatives to pregnancy vitamins high in folic acid to be taken post 12 weeks pregnant. If you’d like more nutritional advice for pregnancy, have a listen to my pregnancy nutrition podcast episode with Georgina Corley, women’s nutritionist specialist, on Spotify, Apple podcasts and other podcast platforms!


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