You probably know that your body needs more vitamins and minerals when you’re pregnant – you’re growing a whole new human after all! But there’s one particular nutrient that’s vital to take in tablet form even BEFORE you get pregnant: folic acid. This nutrient is referred to as 'folate' in its natural form found in (certain) foods, but in tablet or supplement form it's called 'folic acid'. Another important nutrient in pregnancy is iodine – read more by clicking here.
In a nutshell, folate is a nutrient that helps your body build new cells.
It acts as an important building block during the rapid growth and development stages of your baby.
Low folate levels in early pregnancy are associated with a higher risk of neural tube defects (NTD’s) like spina bifida in babies.
Only 50% of pregnancies are actually planned, which is why it’s important all women of childbearing age get enough folate.
How much folate is recommended?
In New Zealand it’s recommended that all women trying to conceive take an 800microgram folic acid tablet every day for at least 4 weeks before, and 12 weeks after becoming pregnant.
Research has shown that folic acid supplementation significantly reduces the risk of neural tube defects like spina bifida.
Talk to your doctor if you've already had a pregnancy that was affected by a neural tube defect. If you’re at a higher risk of having a pregnancy affected by an NTD, you may be prescribed a 5,000 microgram tablet for the same period.
As well as taking a folic acid tablet every day, it’s also important to eat a healthy diet full of folate-rich foods.
Which foods contain folate?
Folate is found naturally in:
Green leafy vegetables (such as spinach and broccoli),
Legumes (lentils, cooked dried beans and peas),
Animal liver (limit to once a week due to high vitamin A content).
You’ll notice folate is called ‘folic acid’ when it’s in supplement form. Interestingly, research shows that the body absorbs the synthetic version (folic acid) much better than the version that occurs naturally in foods (folate). Some foods including breakfast cereals, wholegrain bread, and fruit juice may be fortified with a small amount of folic acid, but it’s not enough when you’re planning a pregnancy – you’ll still need to take a daily folic acid tablet
Talk to your doctor about the best folic acid tablet for you to take.