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Folic acid (Folate) and pregnancy

folic; acid; folate; spina; bifida; neural; tube; defects; anencephaly; pregnancy; pregnant;


Folate is a B group vitamin that helps prevent birth defects known as neural tube defects, such as spina bifida. Folic acid is changed into folate in the body.

Women who are planning a pregnancy are advised to take extra folic acid for at least one month before pregnancy, and then for the first three months of the pregnancy.

More information

Pregnancy, birth and baby (Australian Government website)

How to get more folate

The easiest and most effective way to raise folate levels is by taking a folic acid tablet containing 0.5 milligrams (mg) of folic acid every day.

  • Folic acid is very safe.
  • Folic acid tablets are available from chemists, health food shops and supermarkets.
  • You do not need a prescription to buy them and they are not expensive.
  • Multivitamin tablets often contain folic acid, but not as much as is needed.

Some women need to take more folic acid than the usual recommended amount if they have:

  • Previously had a baby with a neural tube defect
  • A close relative who has had a neural tube defect
  • Spina bifida
  • Are on some types of medication

Check with your doctor who will advise you on the amount to take.

Each year there are about 20 babies in South Australia with spina bifida. By taking folate (folic acid) you can reduce the chance of having a baby with a neural tube defect by up to 70 per cent.

Folate in food

Folate occurs naturally in many foods, but it is very difficult to get all of the folate you need to prevent neural tube defects through your diet.

The foods that have the most folate include:

  • green leafy vegetables such as broccoli, spinich, salad greens
  • chickpeas
  • nuts
  • orange juice
  • some fruits
  • dried beans and peas.

You will also find that many types of bread, breakfast cereals and other packaged foods contain added folate. These are called folate-fortified foods.

Heating can destroy folate. If you are cooking any folate-rich vegetables it is best to microwave, stir-fry or steam them. Do not use any bicarbonate of soda when you are cooking folate-rich foods such as dried chickpeas or soybeans.

For more information

Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ)

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The information on this site should not be used as an alternative to professional care. If you have a particular problem, see your doctor or midwife.


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