Preventing spina bifida

The most effective way to prevent spina bifida (myelomeningocele) is to take folic acid supplements both before and during pregnancy.

Folic acid

The Department of Health recommends all women who might get pregnant should take a daily supplement of 0.4mg of folic acid. You should also take this supplement for the first 12 weeks of pregnancy because this is when your baby’s spine is developing.

Women thought to be at higher risk of having a child with spina bifida may need a higher dose of folic acid. This includes women who:

  • have diabetes 
  • are taking medicines, such as carbamazepine, used to treat epilepsy

Your GP will advise you about this.
Folic acid tablets are available on prescription or from pharmacies, large supermarkets and health food stores. Natural sources of folic acid include:

  • broccoli
  • peas
  • asparagus
  • brussels sprouts
  • chickpeas 
  • brown rice
  • some bread
  • some breakfast cereals

If you are taking medication for a condition such as epilepsy, it is important you check with your GP before taking folic acid. This is because some types of medication can cancel out the effects of folic acid supplements.

Read more about vitamins and nutrition in pregnancy on the pregnancy and baby planner.

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