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Everything You Need To Know About Folic Acid & Pregnancy

When you’re pregnant, there’s all sorts of advice flying at you (the solicited kind from your doctor, the unsolicited kind from aunts, MILs and well-meaning friends) about how to make sure you and baby are happy and healthy as possible — with a range of supplements, regiments and routines that are recommended.

When it comes to folic acid, the more you have to share with your developing baby the healthier you’ll both be. But exactly how much is enough while you’re pregnant, where can you find it and why should you care?

What is folic acid?

Folic acid is one of the fabulous B-group vitamins and is essential for healthy fetal development, particularly in the first trimester of pregnancy. This is when the fetus is forming vital organs, including the brain, spinal cord and protective coverings. When the spinal cord stays open — even partially, then a neural tube defect occurs. One of the most common is spina bifida which affects around 600 pregnancies each year.

What else does folic acid do?

  • It boosts the production of red blood cells.
  • Supports the substances that form our genetic codes making each of us so unique.
  • Helps with protein digestion.
  • Aids normal growth and development.

But I have a healthy diet!

Sorry, but even women who are already eating a diet high in folate won’t meet their pregnancy-specific needs. As clever as you may be, your body cannot manufacture folic acid and the only way to get it is through your diet or by taking supplements.

Best natural sources of folic acid

Folic acid in its natural state is called folate. If you’re looking for brilliant sources then feast on:

  • Green leafy vegetables such as spinach, cabbage and broccoli
  • Legumes
  • Vegemite — yum!
  • Nuts
  • Rolled oats
  • Cereals
  • Oranges
  • Fortified breads

if you are fertile and sexually active then you should be taking a daily multivitamin with folic acid. In Australian women, around half of all pregnancies are unplanned so get in early and don’t wait until that positive blue line is telling you something.When exactly should I take folic acid supplements?

Now I’m convinced — how much folic acid do I need to take?

If you have a personal or family history of having a baby with a neural tube defect, the recommended daily dose is folic acid 0.5 milligrams daily. Otherwise, a multivitamin with at least 0.4 milligrams of folic acid should be included.

Ideally, take folic acid supplements for one month before you conceive and for three months after. This reduces your risk of having a baby with a neural tube defect by 20 percent.

A version of this story was published February 2013.

Before you go, check out our favorite quotes to inspire healthy attitudes about food and bodies: 


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