Folic acid

Folic acid is a B vitamin. Also called vitamin B9, it occurs naturally as folate in foods. Folic acid is vital for cell growth and development. Before conception and during pregnancy, a woman needs 0.4mg of folic acid daily. Folic acid reduces the risk of having a baby with a neural tube defect (NTD) like spina bifida.

Benefits of folic acid

Folic acid is a vitamin that is essential for everyone’s health. You need folic acid because it: 

  • maintains a healthy nervous system
  • works with vitamin B12 to form healthy red blood cells which carry oxygen around the body
  • helps break down, use and create proteins

Women need extra folic acid during early pregnancy to reduce the risk of having a baby with a neural tube defect like spina bifida.

Food sources 

Adults and children over 11 years need 0.2mg (200 microgram) of folic acid every day. You cannot store folic acid in the body so you need to have it in your diet every day. Folate is found naturally in some foods and also in foods fortified with folic acid including:

  • broccoli
  • brussels sprouts
  • liver
  • spinach
  • asparagus
  • peas
  • chickpeas
  • fortified breakfast cereals
  • brown rice

Most people can get the folic acid they need by eating a varied, balanced diet. Folic acid  dissolves easily in water and lost from vegetables during cooking. You can prevent this by steaming or microwaving vegetables instead of boiling.

Importance of folic acid to unborn babies

In pregnancy, folic acid is essential for the development of the baby's spinal cord and central nervous system.

An unborn baby's spinal cord develops early, so it's important women take a daily supplement of folic acid when:

  • trying to conceive
  • likely to conceive
  • during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy

Inadequate blood levels of folate before pregnancy or in the early stages, increase the risk of the baby’s spine developing a neural tube defect. This causes a spinal malformation called spina bifida. 

Taking folic acid before and during a pregnancy

If you are pregnant or planning to become pregnant, take a daily 0.4mg (400 microgram) folic acid supplement until the twelfth week of your pregnancy.  You can get folic acid supplements on prescription from your GP. You can also buy folic acid supplements in pharmacies and health food shops.

 Your doctor may prescribe a 0.5mg daily supplement if you had a previous pregnancy complicated by a neural tube defect.

If you're pregnant and have  diabetes or take anti-epileptic medicines, ask your GP about  taking folic acid. 

Folic acid and breastfeeding

During pregnancy and breastfeeding, it is important to eat a diet rich in folate for your health and your baby's health.

Share this page

What do you want to do?
What is your question about?
Do you want a reply?
Your email address
To reply to you, we need your email address
Your feedback

We will not reply to your feedback.  Don't include any personal or financial information, for example National Insurance, credit card numbers, or phone numbers.

This feedback form is for issues with the nidirect website only.

You can use it to report a problem or suggest an improvement to a webpage.

If you have a question about a government service or policy, you should contact the relevant government organisation directly as we don’t have access to information about you held by government departments.

You must be aged 13 years or older - if you’re younger, ask someone with parental responsibility to send the feedback for you.

The nidirect privacy notice applies to any information you send on this feedback form.

Don't include any personal or financial information, for example National Insurance, credit card numbers, or phone numbers.

Plain text only, 750 characters maximum.
Plain text only, 750 characters maximum.

What to do next

Comments or queries about angling can be emailed to anglingcorrespondence@daera-ni.gov.uk 

What to do next

If you have a comment or query about benefits, you will need to contact the government department or agency which handles that benefit.  Contacts for common benefits are listed below.

Carer's Allowance

Call 0800 587 0912
Email 
dcs.incomingpostteamdhc2@nissa.gsi.gov.uk

Discretionary support / Short-term benefit advance

Call 0800 587 2750 
Email 
customerservice.unit@communities-ni.gov.uk

Disability Living Allowance

Call 0800 587 0912 
Email dcs.incomingpostteamdhc2@nissa.gsi.gov.uk

Employment and Support Allowance

Call 0800 587 1377

Jobseeker’s Allowance

Contact your local Jobs & Benefits office

Personal Independence Payment

Call 0800 587 0932

If your query is about another benefit, select ‘Other’ from the drop-down menu above.

What to do next

Comments or queries about the Blue Badge scheme can be emailed to bluebadges@infrastructure-ni.gov.uk or you can also call 0300 200 7818.

What to do next

For queries or advice about careers, contact the Careers Service.

What to do next

For queries or advice about Child Maintenance, contact the Child Maintenance Service.

What to do next

For queries or advice about claiming compensation due to a road problem, contact DFI Roads claim unit.

What to do next

For queries or advice about criminal record checks, email ani@accessni.gov.uk

What to do next

Application and payment queries can be emailed to ema_ni@slc.co.uk

What to do next

For queries or advice about employment rights, contact the Labour Relations Agency.

What to do next

For queries or advice about birth, death, marriage and civil partnership certificates and research, contact the General Register Office Northern Ireland (GRONI) by email gro_nisra@finance-ni.gov.uk

What to do next

For queries about:

If your query is about another topic, select ‘Other’ from the drop-down menu above.

What to do next

For queries or advice about passports, contact HM Passport Office.

What to do next

For queries or advice about Penalty Charge Notices (PCNs), including parking tickets and bus lane PCNs, email dcu@infrastructure-ni.gov.uk

What to do next

For queries or advice about pensions, contact the Northern Ireland Pension Centre.

What to do next

If you wish to report a problem with a road or street you can do so online in this section.

If you wish to check on a problem or fault you have already reported, contact DfI Roads.

What to do next

For queries or advice about historical, social or cultural records relating to Northern Ireland, use the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland (PRONI) enquiry service.

What to do next

For queries or advice about rates, email LPSCustomerTeam@lpsni.gov.uk

What to do next

For queries or advice about  60+ and Senior Citizen SmartPasses (which can be used to get concessionary travel on public transport), contact Smartpass - Translink.