Northern Ireland women urged to take folic acid

safefood campaign stresses importance of women taking folic acid daily to help prevent Neural Tube Defects (NTDs) among newborns.

Monday 27 July, 2015. All women who are sexually active and who could become pregnant are being reminded of the need to take folic acid daily, regardless of whether they are planning a pregnancy or not, by a new safefood campaign launched today.

The campaign has been developed to encourage women to take folic acid supplements to help prevent serious birth defects of the brain and spine including spina bifida and hydrocephalus. Currently Northern Ireland has one of the highest incidences of these conditions, which are known as Neural Tube Defects (NTDs).

This campaign is targeted at all sexually active women who could become pregnant, as research has revealed that around half of pregnancies here are unplanned.

Speaking at the launch of the campaign, Prof Jim Dornan, who holds the Chair of Health and Life Sciences at Ulster University said: “With such a high rate of unplanned pregnancy, it’s important that our folic acid message reaches all women, not just those thinking about having a baby. Research shows* that less than 1 in 5 women in Northern Ireland have taken folic acid before they become pregnant so the best approach is for all sexually active women to build this into their daily routine.

The Neural tube is important in the healthy formation of a baby’s spine and brain and it is formed in the first few weeks of development, before many women are even aware that they are pregnant.

Currently in Northern Ireland on average between 12 and 18 babies are born with NTDs like Spina Bifida every year.  Taking folic acid daily as a supplement could potentially prevent 70% of these conditions – that could be up to 12 fewer babies affected every year.”

SHINE’s Northern Ireland Director, Cathy McKillop said, “The children we work with, and their families, encounter many challenges in their daily life. Our message is very simple: we know that many of these cases are avoidable by taking one daily supplement. 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 such a big, life-long difference.

We would also encourage women who may be at higher risk of having a NTD pregnancy because of diabetes, obesity, or have had a previous NTD pregnancy, to consult their local GP as they might need a higher dose of folic Acid.”

Consumer research conducted by safefood for the campaign also found that 1 in 10 young adult women mistakenly believe that they can get enough folic acid from their diet.

Dr Cliodhna Foley-Nolan, Director of Human Health & Nutrition, safefood added:

For a healthy mum and baby, you simply can’t get enough folic acid from our food alone even with fortified foods. Taking a daily folic acid supplement of 400 microgrammes (mcg) is the only way to go. Folic acid is widely available, and doesn’t cost more than a few pence 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 all island research project being funded by safefood will also look at folic acid levels in women during the first trimester of pregnancy and will help inform future policy and practice around folic acid.

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 Northern Ireland from pharmacies, folic acid manufacturers, GP surgeries and supermarkets where folic acid is sold. For more information visit or follow the conversation using the hashtag #FolicFacts

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For more information or to request an interview, please contact


Russell Lever, Tel: 028 9080 2000 / 077 8828 8901 /


Julie Carroll, Tel: 01 4480619


*Northern Ireland Centre for Food & Health (NICHE), University of Ulster,

*Online survey of 738 women aged 18-59 between 24 June and 7 July 2015 (safefood)

Editor’s notes

SHINE is a local charity which provides support and guidance to families and children with Spina Bifida and Hydrocephalus.