Research shows that less than 1 in 5 women have taken folic acid before they become pregnant
Less than one in five women in Northern Ireland have taken a folic acid supplement daily before they become pregnant*, despite it being the best way to reduce the risk of Neural Tube Defects (NTDs) among newborns.
That’s the findings of research coinciding with the roll-out of safefood’s ‘Babies Know the Facts About Folic’ campaign aimed at encouraging women to make taking folic acid a daily habit, whether they are planning a pregnancy or not.
Research has revealed that around half of pregnancies here are unplanned** and currently Northern Ireland has one of the highest incidences of Neural Tube Defects (NTDs), which includes conditions such as spina bifida and hydrocephalus.
Welcoming the campaign, Health Minister Michelle O’Neill said: “Fewer than one in five local women of childbearing age take folic acid on a daily basis. We have one of the highest incidences of neural tube defects such as spina bifida or anencephaly, so this is a serious issue.
“For any woman who might become pregnant – not just those who are trying for a baby – taking folic acid should be part of her daily routine in order to reduce the risk of her baby having a neural tube defect.”
The safefood campaign aims to build upon the 2015 campaign, which saw a significant increase in awareness of the fact that 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%).
Many of the reported behaviour changes were from a low starting level, but most notably there was an increase in folic acid sales during the campaign (+26% average year on year).
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. While there has been some recent debate about fortification of foods with folic acid, this is still some way off and even with fortified foods, taking the daily supplement provides the best protection of the unborn baby’s sine and brain.
In a recent online survey*** 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 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 pence per day” added Dr Foley Nolan. “By taking folic acid daily, women are taking control of their own health. Taking folic acid 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.”
Cathy McKillop, Northern Ireland Director of SHINE, a local charity which provides support and guidance to families and children with Spina Bifida and Hydrocephalus, said: “Our message is very simple: we want to encourage women to take one daily supplement of folic acid. Whether you’re thinking about having a baby or not, we wholeheartedly encourage women to start taking folic acid every day. It’s such a small thing which can make a big difference.
“We would also encourage higher risk women who have gone through previous NTD pregnancies, suffer from diabetes or who might be overweight or obese to consult their local GP as they might need a higher dose of 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 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 on Twitter using the hashtag #FolicFacts