Only one in five NI women in habit of using folic acid
Women across Northern Ireland have been urged to take folic acid daily after it emerged less than one in five take the supplement before becoming pregnant.
The call in a new campaign comes as folic acid is the best way to reduce the risk of neural tube defects among newborns.
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, which includes conditions such as spina bifida and hydrocephalus.
The findings of research coincides with the Safefood's 'Babies Know the Facts About Folic' campaign aimed at encouraging women to make taking it a daily habit, whether they are planning a pregnancy or not.
Currently in Northern Ireland on average between 12 and 18 babies are born with neural tube defects.
Cathy McKillop, Northern Ireland director of Shine, a local charity which provides support and guidance to families and children with the conditions said: "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."
Dr Cliodhna Foley-Nolan, director of human health and nutrition for Safefood, said: "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.
"We would encourage women to that a daily habit.
"Folic acid is widely available, doesn't require a prescription and doesn't cost more than a couple of pence per day," Dr Foley-Nolan added.