Folate is a B vitamin which women require in increased amounts during pregnancy – to assist with cell division in the baby. Low levels are associated with neural tube defects, which are caused by incomplete development of the brain, the spinal cord or their protective coverings in early pregnancy. Examples of these include spina bifida and anencephaly.
It is difficult to ensure you get the required amounts of folate during pregnancy from your food alone. Therefore in New Zealand it is recommended that woman should take one 800Âµg (0.8 mg) folic acid tablet daily for at least 4 weeks before and 12 weeks after conception, as well as consuming foods rich in folate and folic acid fortified foods.
It is also recommended that women at increased risk of having a pregnancy affected by a neural tube defect (for example, women with a family history of spina bifida) should take 5000Âµg (5mg) of folic acid daily for at least 4 weeks before and 12 weeks after conception.
The main dietary sources of folate in New Zealand include:
- Leafy green vegetables (wash well before use)
- Citrus fruit
- Wholegrain breads
- Legumes (dried beans)
- Folic acid fortified foods, such as some breakfast cereals and juices
- Liver â€“ but limit to 100g per week due to high vitamin A levels. Liver needs to be well cooked, served hot and eaten immediately after cooking.
Useful articles on nutrition in pregnancy
For information on which foods you need in pregnancy and which to avoid, read our Kiwi Families article by dietician, Fiona Boyle and midwife, Paula Skelton – Nutrition in Pregnancy
Many women suffer from uncomfortable symptoms in pregnancy, some of which can be eased through good nutrition. See our articleÂ Nausea, Constipation & Heartburn for some great tips.
Reference: Ministry of Health. Food and Nutrition Guidelines for Pregnant and Breastfeeding Women, a background paper. 2006. Wellington. NZ Government.