A 12-week consultation has been launched on whether folic acid should be added to flour.
According to Public Health England, nine in every 10 women aged 16 to 49 have blood folate levels associated with increased risk of neural tube defect-affected pregnancy.
Neural tube defects include spina bifida (abnormal development of the spine) and anencephaly, which affects the brain.
Around 1,000 pregnancies are affected by neural tube defects each year in the UK and more than 40% of those cases result in a baby’s death.
But experts say that adding folic acid to flour could prevent around 200 birth defects.
More than 60 other countries, including Australia, Canada and the US, already add folic acid to flour and Australia has seen a 14% drop in neural tube defects since then.
Kate Steele, chief executive of spina bifida charity Shine, said: “After more than 25 years of campaigning for this, we look forward to the day that mandatory fortification with folic acid finally becomes a reality.
“Its introduction will change many lives for the better by reducing the incidence of anencephaly and spina bifida.
“This relatively simple step will give new babies and children, and their families, the chance of happier, healthier lives.”
Pregnant women are advised to take folic acid supplements before conception and for the first 12 weeks of pregnancy to cut the risk to their baby.
However, this does not help if a pregnancy is unexpected or a woman does not know she is pregnant until it is too late.
Some women also forget or refuse to take the supplement.
Public health minister Seema Kennedy said: “The simple measure of adding folic acid to flour would help spare hundreds of families from such a life-changing event.
“Women from the poorest areas are less likely to take folic acid supplements and it is right that we do all we can to protect the most vulnerable in society.”
Under the government’s 1998 Bread and Flour regulations, white flour is already fortified with iron, calcium and some vitamins.