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Folic acid call for New Year pregnancies

Folic acid call for New Year pregnancies

Many couples start the New Year with a resolution to start trying for a baby. Women currently trying to conceive or planning a pregnancy in the next few months should start taking folic acid supplements now, as they are proven to reduce the risk of the foetus developing serious anomalies, the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (bpas) urges today. Women with a higher BMI need to obtain a higher dose supplement that is available on prescription.

Folic acid helps prevent neural tube defects (NTDs) like spina bifida and anencephaly. Spina bifida causes lifelong disability, while anencephaly is a condition in which where the baby’s skull and brain do not form properly. Rates in the UK remain high, with around 1,000 pregnancies estimated to be affected every year, and the majority of cases (80%) end in the painful decision to terminate what is often a much wanted pregnancy.

The vitamin should ideally be taken before conception as the neural tube forms very early in pregnancy. Women with a higher BMI (30 or more) should obtain a prescription from their GP for a higher dose supplement, as should women with diabetes, women taking epilepsy medication, and women who have had a previous pregnancy affected by a neural tube defect or a family history of the condition.

bpas, the country’s leading abortion provider, hopes UK health ministers will approve the fortification of flour with folic acid in 2016. ‎This would mean the vitamin entered foods consumed everyday, and would be of particular benefit to women with unplanned pregnancies who would have higher levels of the vitamin when they conceived. Countries which have introduced mandatory fortification, including the US and Canada, have seen a marked reduction in neural tube defects, with no evidence of adverse effects on the rest of the population. Fortification of flour with folic acid is supported by the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists and the Spina Bifida charity Shine among others.

Clare Murphy, Director of External Affairs at bpas, said:

"Women are bombarded these days with messages about what they should and shouldn't do when planning a pregnancy. However taking folic acid before you conceive really does have benefits. If you are planning on getting pregnant soon it makes sense to start taking folic acid now. If you have a higher BMI be sure to make an appointment with your GP to obtain the higher dose of the vitamin.

“We know there are many reasons why women don’t take folic acid before they conceive – not least because many pregnancies are not planned. Contraception fails, and sometimes we fail to use it properly, and it is simply unrealistic to expect all women of reproductive age to be taking folic acid on the basis that they might get pregnant. We hope in 2016 ministers approve the fortification of flour with folic acid, as was first recommended a decade ago. It’s a straightforward public health intervention which could spare hundreds of women every year from the painful decision to end a much wanted pregnancy.”


For further information please contact the bpas press office on 07788 725 185 or press@bpas.org

About bpas bpas is a charity which sees more than 70,000 women a year and provides reproductive healthcare services including pregnancy counselling, abortion care, miscarriage management and contraception, at clinics across the UK. It supports and advocates for reproductive choice. More information can be found at bpas.org.
The World Health Organisation recommends red blood cell folate levels should be above 906 nmol/L in women of reproductive age to achieve the greatest reduction in NTDs Analysis of blood samples from the National Diet and Nutrition Survey published in 2015 found among UK women of reproductive age the median level was 535 nmol/L and the mean 614 nmol/L (Scotland mean 563, Northern Ireland mean 512, Wales mean 611)