- Only 1 in 4 women take folic acid before pregnancy
- Taking a daily folic acid supplement reduces the risk of having a baby with a Neural Tube Defect
15 June 2016: All women who could become pregnant are being encouraged to make taking folic acid a daily habit, irrespective of whether they are planning a pregnancy or not. Safefood’s campaign ‘Babies Know the Facts About Folic’ is also reminding women that taking a folic acid supplement daily is the best way to reduce the risk of having a baby with a Neural Tube Defect (NTD) like Spina Bifida.
Welcoming the campaign, Minister of State at the Department of Health responsible for Public Health Promotion, Marcella Corcoran Kennedy T.D said “It’s so important that our folic acid message reaches women, not just those thinking about having a baby. With research¹ showing that only 1 in 4 women report taking folic acid before they are actually pregnant, the best approach is for women to build folic acid into their daily routine and reduce their risk of having a baby with a Neural Tube Defect. I’m greatly encouraged that there was a reported increase in women taking folic acid following safefood’s campaign last year and I hope this will be repeated and improved on this year, as more women make this a daily habit.”
Prof Michael Turner, UCD Professor of Obstetrics and Gynaecology at the Coombe Women and Infants University Hospital continued “Women should start folic acid before they become pregnant and not wait until they are planning a pregnancy or until after they become pregnant. Taking a 400 microgram folic acid supplement every day can potentially prevent two thirds of Neural Tube Defects every year – on average, that’s approximately 50 fewer babies affected every year.”
The safefood campaign aims to improve on the 2015 campaign which saw a significant increase in awareness that all women should take folic acid (+48%) and an increase in those reporting taking folic acid routinely even though they were not planning a pregnancy (+7%) And there were also positive increases in folic acid sales during the campaign (+26% average year on year). However, the reported behaviour changes were from a very low starting level.
Dr Rhona Mahony, Master, National Maternity Hospital, Holles Street continued “We know that women are aware of the benefits of taking folic acid but with up to 50% of all pregnancies² being unplanned, it’s so important that all women who could become pregnant start taking it daily, even if a baby is the last thing on their mind. A baby’s neural tube develops in the first few weeks of pregnancy when many women may be unaware they are pregnant and for this reason they need to make folic acid part of their daily routine.”
Dr Cliodhna Foley-Nolan, Director of Human Health & Nutrition, safefood continued “For a healthy mum and baby, the only way to get adequate levels of folic acid is by taking it every day as a 400 microgram supplement and making that a daily habit. Taking a daily supplement is the only way to go. There has been some recent debate about fortification of foods with folic acid, this is still some way off. Even with fortified foods taking the daily supplement provides best protection of the unborn baby’s spine and brain”.
In a recent online survey³ by safefood, the most common barriers listed by women to taking folic acid were low relevancy to them (42%); a lack of advice to take folic acid (40%); a belief that contraception was 100% effective (37%) and forgetting to take folic acid (30%).
“Folic acid is widely available, doesn’t require a prescription and doesn’t cost more than a couple of cents a day”, added Dr Foley-Nolan. “By taking folic acid daily, women are taking control of their own health. Taking folic doesn’t mean you are planning a baby but it does mean that when you do have a baby, however unplanned or far in the future that may be, you are already helping to protect their health.”
Supported by Spina Bifida Hydrocephalus Ireland and Shine NI, the safefood campaign ‘Babies Know the Facts About Folic’ will feature on social and digital media with added in-store promotional support across the island of Ireland from pharmacies, folic acid manufacturers, GP surgeries and retail outlets where folic acid is sold. For more information visit www.safefood.eu/folicacid or follow the conversation using the hashtag #FolicFacts
¹ An analysis of folic acid supplementation in women presenting for antenatal care
(Cawley et al, 2015) School of Biological Science, Dublin Institute of Technology; UCD Centre for Human Reproduction, Coombe Women and Infants University Hospital
² Your Health is Your Wealth – HSE Public Health Policy Framework 2012-2020
³ safefood online survey of 1,422 women aged 18+ on the island of Ireland (5 May 2016 – 6 June 2016)