What is Folate and folic acid?

Folate is a B group vitamin needed for growth and development of the nervous systems in the fetus. It is known as ‘Folate’ when it is found naturally in food, such as leafy green vegetables, fruits and legumes. ‘Folic acid’ is the synthetic form of Folate and is used in dietary supplements.

Why is Folate important for pregnancy?

If you have the right level of folic acid in your body before you get pregnant, it reduces the risk of the baby developing neural tube defects by up to 70%. Neural tube defects are problems with the brain or spinal cord, including spina bifida.

Most cases of neural tube defects can be prevented if you have enough Folate before and during early pregnancy.

Which foods contain Folate?

It is best to lightly cook vegetables or eat them raw.

The following are good sources of natural Folate:

  • vegetables (broccoli, brussel sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, , green beans, lettuce, mushrooms, , zucchini)
  • fruit (avocado, grapefruit, oranges, berries, bananas)
  • legumes (chickpeas, soya beans, lima beans, red kidney beans, lentils, haricot beans)
  • eggs, nuts, apple and orange juices.

When should I start taking folic acid supplements?

Generally, when trying to get pregnant or in the early months of pregnancy, you will need to look for supplements that contain at least 400 micrograms of folic acid. These will generally be supplements.

The best way to guarantee you get enough folic acid is to take a daily folic acid supplement at least 1 month before and until 3 months after conception. You don’t need to take folic acid supplements after that.

How much folic acid do women need?

All women need 400 micrograms of folic acid every day. Women who can get pregnant should get 400 to 800 micrograms of folic acid from a vitamin.

How will I know if I need a high dose of folic acid?

Some women have an increased risk of having a pregnancy affected by a neural tube defect and are advised to take a higher dose (5mg) of folic acid each day 3 months prior to conception and until they are 12 weeks pregnant.

Women have an increased risk if:

  • they or their partner have a neural tube defect
  • they or their partner have a family history of neural tube defects
  • they have had a previous pregnancy affected by a neural tube defect
  • they have diabetes
  • women who are taking anti-epileptic medication

If any of the above apply to you, talk to your doctor since they can prescribe a higher dose.

What happens if there isn’t enough folic acid in a pregnant woman’s body?

If you do not get enough folic acid before and during pregnancy, your baby is at higher risk for neural tube defects, which are serious birth defects.

These include:

  • Spina bifida
  • Anencephaly