All women who could potentially become pregnant within the next year should be taking folic acid supplements every day to reduce the risk of birth defects in babies, Prof Michael Turner of the Coombe maternity hospital warned yesterday.
This should not just apply to women planning to become pregnant, he said.
Ideally, women should start folic acid supplements at least three months before they conceive and continue for three months into pregnancy, he told the Oireachtas health committee.
Taking 400mcg of folic acid daily during the recommended time can dramatically reduce the risk of neural tube defects including spina bifida.
The warning comes against a doubling of the rate of these defects in recent years.
"We need a renewed public health campaign to increase awareness about the potential of folic acid to prevent neural tube defects. Women of childbearing age use smart phones extensively to access pregnancy-related information.
"Thus, future campaigns should use social media as well as traditional communication channels.
"The issue of mandatory food fortification with folic acid needs to be reviewed urgently by the Government and this has implications for different departments.
"As food and food ingredients are now sourced globally, this issue would benefit, in my view, from a pan-European approach to the regulation ."