Why is folate important?
Folate (or folic acid) is a B group vitamin that is needed during pregnancy to contribute to healthy growth and development of the baby, helping to prevent birth defects called neural tube defects, such as spina bifida. When the vitamin occurs naturally in food, it’s known as folate, and when it is added to food (such as breakfast cereals or bread) or dietary supplements, it is called folic acid. You have two ways of increasing your folate intake during pregnancy: by eating foods that are rich in folate (which may include folate-fortified foods) or by taking a folic acid supplement.
Foods containing folate
Good sources of folate include green leafy vegetables like broccoli, spinach or asparagus, fruit including citrus, berries and bananas; legumes like chickpeas, dried beans and lentils, nuts; and some cereals (many breakfast cereals also have added folate). Since September 2009, all bread-making flour produced in Australia, except organic flour, is required to have added folic acid, which is a government initiative to provide a kind of folate ‘safety net’ to pregnant women.
Since it can be hard to figure out how much folate you are regularly getting from your diet, the best way to guarantee you’re getting enough is to take a daily folic acid supplement as well as eating folate-rich foods. Supplements can be purchased over the counter or through your GP and should be taken at least one month before and three months after conception. There are lots of products on the market of varying strength; you may wish to consult your GP to choose the best supplement for your needs.