Folate – The Pregnancy Vitamin

folic-acid-introWhenever a new expecting mum comes in or a woman comes in asking for advice before starting a family, I will invariably harp on about the importance of taking a pregnancy supplement with folate.

Folate has been scientifically proven to reduce the chance that your baby will have neural tube defects such as Spina Bifida which affects approximately 1 in 1000 babies in Australia.

The problem that we as clinicians face is imparting this knowledge to women before they begin conceiving as the neural tube is formed in the first few weeks of life – way before most women realise that they are actually pregnant.

For whatever reason some women just don’t seem to be consuming enough folate in their diet. Since 2009 folic acid fortification of flour used in making bread (except organic bread) has been mandatory.

Guidelines recommend at least 400mcg of folate be taken daily one month before conception till three months post conception. There is really no clear benefit after this for ongoing folate supplementation, however, most women feel comfortable taking a multivitamin throughout the whole pregnancy.

I often advise patients to be careful as to what supplements they take, not all multivitamins are the same and it is best to speak with your doctor or pharmacist about an appropriate vitamin. The general ‘run of the mill’ multivitamins often contain Vitamin A which is teratogenic in high doses so is best avoided.

In certain circumstances your doctor may recommend an even higher dose of folate (5mg), if for example you have a family history of neural tube defects or are on certain medications.

A healthy diet also helps increase your intake of folate.

Foods that are high in folate

  • vegetables (broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, English spinach, green beans, lettuce, mushrooms, parsnip, sweet corn, zucchini)
  • fruit (avocado, grapefruit, orange)
  • legumes (chickpeas, soya beans, lima beans, red kidney beans, lentils, haricot beans)
  • eggs
  • nuts
  • juices (many apple and orange juices).

Finally confusion often arises between “folate” and “folic acid”. Folate is found naturally in food. Folate is known as “folic acid” when it’s added to food or used in supplements.

The advice provided on is of a general nature and in no way should replace your therapeutic relationship with your doctor

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