30pc jump in sales of folic acid
A campaign to alert women who could become pregnant about the need to take folic acid supplements in order to reduce the risk of having a baby with birth defects led to a 30pc rise in sales of the vitamin, initial results show.
The Safefood campaign ran from July to August amid growing concern that the rate of neural tube defects is on the rise again.
A survey of more than 770 women found the proportion who said they were taking folic acid routinely, even though they were not planning a pregnancy, went up from 8pc to 14pc.
A briefing document for Health Minister Leo Varadkar said Lloyds, the country's largest pharmacy chain, reported that sales rose by 30pc compared with the same period last year.
More than a third of women had started taking folic acid in the past six weeks, it also stated.
The campaign was launched after it emerged less than one in four women was taking folic acid before they conceive.
One in 10 also wrongly believed they got enough folic acid from food.
Medics say taking folic acid daily as a supplement could potentially prevent two-thirds of neural tube defects a year - meaning around 50 fewer babies could be affected.
A baby's neural tube develops in the first few weeks of pregnancy when many women may be unaware they are pregnant.
Dr Cliodhna Foley-Nolan, director of Human Health and Nutrition at Safefood, said women who could become pregnant should take 400mcg of folic acid daily. "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," she added.