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All sexually active women should be taking folic acid

Safefood MPU

Less than 1 in 4 women take folic acid before they conceive and 1 in 10 women wrongly believe they get enough folic acid from food.

All women who are sexually active and who could become pregnant are being reminded of the need to take folic acid daily, irrespective of whether they are planning a pregnancy or not, a new safefood campaign has urged.

The campaign ‘Babies Know the Facts About Folic’ has been developed to encourage women to take folic acid supplements and help address Ireland’s high incidence rate of Neural Tube Defects (NTDs) like Spina Bifida among newborn babies.

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Speaking at the launch of the campaign, Prof Michael Turner, UCD Professor of Obstetrics and Gynaecology at the Coombe Women and Infants University Hospital said “We know from recently published Irish research that three out of four women who attend for antenatal care have not taken folic acid supplements before they become pregnant. Taking folic acid daily as a supplement could potentially prevent two thirds of Neural Tube Defects every year – on average, that’s approximately 50 fewer babies affected every year.”

Dr Rhona Mahony, Master, National Maternity Hospital, Holles Street continued “We know that women are somewhat aware of folic acid but with up to 50% of all pregnancies being unplanned, it’s so important that all women who are sexually active start taking the vitamin daily, even if a baby is the last thing on their mind. That’s because a baby’s neural tube develops in the first few weeks of pregnancy when many women may be unaware they are pregnant.”

Consumer research conducted by safefood for the campaign found that young adult women are misinformed with less than 10% of women surveyed taking folic acid routinely while a further 1 in 10 wrongly believed they got enough folic acid from the food they ate.

Dr Cliodhna Foley-Nolan, Director of Human Health & Nutrition, safefood added “For a healthy mum and baby, we simply can’t get enough folic acid from our food alone even with fortified foods – taking a daily folic acid supplement of 400 mcg is the only way to go. Folic acid is widely available, and doesn’t cost more than a few cents a day. Taking folic acid doesn’t mean you are planning a baby but just means when you do have a baby, however far in the future that may be, you are already helping to protect their health.”

A new research project being funded by safefood will also look at folic acid levels in women during the first trimester of pregnancy on the island of Ireland and will help inform future policy and practice around folic acid.

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 during July and August 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 safefood.eu/folicacid or follow the conversation using the hashtag #FolicFacts

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