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What is folate and why is it so important in pregnancy?

Blog post | 31 Jul 2019

If you’re trying for a baby or have just fallen pregnant, it’s important to start taking a daily folic acid supplement. Doing this will lessen the chance of your baby developing a neural tube defect.

Why is folate important?

Folate is a group B vitamin that has been proven to reduce the risk of a baby developing a neural tube defect, such as spina bifida. Folic acid is the synthetic form of folate.

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 400mg. 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.

More information

Talk to your doctor about planning for a pregnancy or if you think you might be pregnant.

Call us and speak to a Maternal Child Health Nurse for personal advice and guidance.

Need further advice or guidance from our maternal child health nurses?

This information is for your general information and use only and is not intended to be used as medical advice and should not be used to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any medical condition, nor should it be used for therapeutic purposes.

The information is not a substitute for independent professional advice and should not be used as an alternative to professional health care. If you have a particular medical problem, please consult a healthcare professional.

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