Do you need folate supplements?

Folate helps your baby’s nervous system to develop. You may need to take a supplement to make sure you’re getting enough.

 

The role of folate in pregnancy

Folate is an essential pregnancy vitamin. It plays a very important role in the first trimester of pregnancy, helping your baby’s nervous system to develop.

During these earliest weeks of pregnancy, your baby is growing rapidly. A crucial part of this growth is the formation and fusing of the neural tube – which later becomes your baby’s brain and spinal cord.

Without enough folate in your diet, there is a greater risk that the neural tube won’t close properly, and this can lead to defects like spina bifida.

Given that folate plays such an important role in these earliest days – which, let’s face it, can be before you even know you’re pregnant – it is recommended that you take extra folate while you are trying to fall pregnant.

Folate in foods, folic acid in supplements

Folate is the naturally occurring form of this B-group vitamin. It is found in foods like:

  • Green vegetables like spinach, broccoli and asparagus
  • Some fruits, including strawberries, oranges and bananas
  • Legumes like chickpeas, beans and lentils

Folic acid is the synthetic form of the vitamin. In Australia, folic acid is now added to some cereals, breads and fruit juices; and it can also be taken in supplement form. All wheat flour used in bread making must contain folic acid in Australia except organic bread. Therefore bread is a good source of folic acid. Check the nutritional information on the products you are eating to see if they have folic acid or folate listed.

How much folate do you need?

Generally, most women don't get enough folate before and during pregnancy from diet alone. Experts recommend that women of childbearing age aim for a folate rich diet and if planning a pregnancy they take a supplement containing 400 mcg folic acid per day. This requirement increases during pregnancy to 600 mcg  per day until the end of the first trimester.

Some women are at a higher risk of having a baby with a neural tube defect, and may need to take a much higher dose of folic acid. Risks may include:

  • If you, your partner or a family member have a neural tube defect
  • If you take medication for epilepsy or seizures
  • If you have type 1 diabetes

Before you start taking folic acid, you should discuss your requirements with your doctor.

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