Why is folate important?
Babies develop very quickly in the first few weeks of pregnancy. One of the first things they grow is the ‘neural tube’, which will become the baby’s spine and nervous system.
A neural tube defect, such as spina bifida, occurs when the neural tube does not develop or close properly. Research has shown that folate reduces the chances that the neural tube will not develop as it should.
So where do I find folate?
Folate is found naturally in green leafy vegetables, such as broccoli, cabbage, spinach and lettuce. It can also be found in some fruits like oranges, berries and bananas, and legumes, such as chickpeas and lentils. You can even find it in Vegemite.
In Australia, folate, in the synthetic form of folic acid, is commonly used to fortify foods, such as bread (except organic bread) and breakfast cereal. It is also available to take as supplement tablet.
While you can get folate from the food you eat, pregnant women are advised to take a folic acid supplement to make sure they get the right amount. The current recommendation is 400 mcg. Although many multivitamins targeted at pregnant women may contain folic acid, it’s important to check you are getting the recommended dose.
When should I start taking folic acid?
If you are planning a pregnancy, you should start taking a folic acid supplement at least one month before you fall pregnant. If you fall pregnant and you haven't been taking a supplement, start straight away.
You can get folic acid supplements from a pharmacy or supermarket.
Regardless of when you started, you should keep taking the supplement for at least the first 3 months of your pregnancy.
Talk to your doctor about planning for a pregnancy or if you think you might be pregnant.