New safefood campaign stresses importance of women taking folic acid as a daily supplement

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

Monday 20 July, 2015. 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 launched today 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.

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 research¹ 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 pregnancies² 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 research³ 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 or follow the conversation using the hashtag #FolicFacts.

folic acid campaign launch

- Ends -

For further information or to request an interview, please contact

Eleanor Reidy / Emma Walsh


Tel: 00353 1 669 0030

Mob: 00353 87 627 5344 (Eleanor) / 00353 87 317 0897 (Emma)


Dermot Moriarty / Julie Carroll Safefood

Tel: 00353 1 448 0600

Mob: 00353 86 381 1034 (Dermot)/ 00353 86 150 3047 (Julie)


¹ An analysis of folic acid supplementation in women presenting for antenatal care. Shona Cawley, Laura Mullaney, Aoife McKeating, Maria Farren, Daniel McCartney, Michael J. Turner. Public Health doi:10.1093/pubmed/fdv019

² Your Health is Your Wealth – HSE Public Health Policy Framework 2012-2020

³ Online survey of 738 women aged 18-59 between 24 June and 7 July, 2015 (safefood)

Editor’s notes

In the Republic of Ireland, 236 babies with a neural tube defect (NTD) were born between 2009 and 2011, a reverse in trend from the previous decade. On average, around 80 babies are born every year with a NTD – taking folic acid daily as a supplement could potentially prevent 70% of those cases.