Folate is one of the most important vitamins in the early stages of your pregnancy as it is critical for your baby’s development. This is because folate deficiency is linked to a serious condition called neural tube defects, and a diet consisting of folate-rich foods and folate supplementation before conception and during the 1st trimester of pregnancy will prevent 7 out of 10 neural tube defect cases.
What is folate and why is it so important to my pregnancy?
Folate or folic acid is from the Vitamin B family and helps with the process of cell synthesis, which is integral for the formation of the nervous system.
The neural tube is a structure that forms in the developing fetus around week 4, which will later develop into your baby’s spinal cord and brain.
Neural tube defects refer to when this doesn’t occur properly and the tube fails to fuse in the spine, skull or brain. Only 40% of pregnancies affected by neural tube defects sadly survive until birth, and those born will suffer from lifelong disability with bladder and bowel problems, and paralysis of the limbs. By consuming folate during your pregnancy, this significantly reduces the chances of neural tube defects occurring.
Folate deficiency can also contribute to increasing your risk of spontaneous miscarriage in early pregnancy and preterm birth, as well as developing intrauterine growth retardation whereby your baby is asymmetrically smaller than expected. You are also at high risk of developing megaloblastic anaemia.
How much folate should I be having in pregnancy?
- The Recommended Daily Intake (RDI) for folate during pregnancy is 600mcg/day.
- Commence 1 month prior to falling pregnant as well as for the first 12 weeks of your pregnancy.
- You should increase this amount to 5mg/day if you have a family or personal history of neural tube defects, if you suffer from Type 1 diabetes or epilepsy and are on anti-convulsant medication, or have a BMI >35.
How can I achieve the folate recommendations?
- Folate supplement
This is the recommended way to obtain your folate requirements during your pregnancy, as they are easily digested by the body and have twice the bioavailability of folate for your body than food sources.
Supplement tablets are available over the counter at pharmacies and provide you with 400mcg per tablet. Common brands include Blackmores folate, Fefol (iron and folate), and Elevit multivitamin (contains 800mcg folate).
Multi-vitamin supplements do contain folate, however some brands contain much less than a ‘pure’ folate tablet. It is important to check the label to confirm the folate content.
- Fortified foods
Some foods in Australia now are fortified with folate. This includes wheat flour bread and certain brands of orange juice.
If you consume 3 pieces of fortified bread per day will provide you with around 130mcg of folate.
- Folate rich diet
Other foods that are rich in folate and are safe for consumption during your pregnancy include:
- Leafy green vegetables such as spinach, asparagus, green peas, and broccoli
- Legumes such as chickpeas and butter beans
This topic has highlighted the importance of folate and why a folate supplement is necessary in your pregnancy diet.