09/09/2009 04:46 BST | Updated 22/05/2015 06:12 BST

All Women Of Childbearing Age Urged To Take Folic Acid

Women are being advised to take extra folic acid if there is even a chance they could get pregnant, after an increase in spina bifida cases.

Fifteen babies with the condition have been born in Scotland this year, twice the usual number, according to the Scottish Spina Bifida Association (SSBA).

Most women know you're supposed to take folic acid during pregnancy. But if you wait until you're sure you're pregnant, it might be too late.

So if you're trying to have a baby, or aren't too careful about contraception, you should take the supplement.

Experts are concerned about the risk to babies of unplanned pregnancies. This could be a bit of a problem though - if you don't take contraception reliably, are you going to take folic acid?

Spina bifida is a birth defect caused by vertabrae in the spinal cord not being fully formed. It can lead to paralysis and other nervous system damage.

Children with spina bifida also often have hydrocephalus - fluid on the brain.

Dr Margo Whiteford, chairman of the SSBA, told the BBC: "This year we've had as many contacts from families in the first half of the year as we'd expect to see for the full year.

"We don't know if this is down to folic acid but we do know that most women don't take enough folic acid at the right time.

"Ladies do know about folic acid preventing spina bifida but they wait until they've missed a period before they start taking it.

"The spinal cord develops within the first four weeks of pregnancy so by that stage it's too late - if the baby's going to have spina bifida it will already have developed it."

The occurence of spina bifida can be decreased by up to 75% when daily folic acid supplements are taken before conception.

The Food Standards Agency (FSA) recommends pregnant women take 400 micrograms of folic acid daily until the 12th week of pregnancy.

Back in 2007, the FSA even recommended that folic acid should be added to bread or flour. But that recommendation is currently under review after new research suggested it could increase the risk of colorectal cancer.

Source: AOL News