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 800µg (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’s 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 5000µg (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 – 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.

Some useful articles and resources on nutrition in pregnancy

To read about iron and how to ensure you’re getting enough for you and your baby, read our article on Iron in Pregnancy.

For information on which foods you need in pregnancy and which to avoid, read our article on Nutrition in Pregnancy.

Preconception Care covers healthy eating and exercise in pregnancy and advises you on what to avoid prior to conception. We also have some great nutritional tips on how to manage Nausea, Constipation & Heartburn.

You should also consider taking a pregnancy multivitamin to ensure you’re getting enough folic acid and iodine right throughout your pregnancy.

Reference: Ministry of Health. Food and Nutrition Guidelines for Pregnant and Breastfeeding Women, a background paper. 2006. Wellington. NZ Government.

 

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Fiona Boyle is a registered dietitian and nutritionist. She runs a private practice and gives nutrition advice to individuals and families to help meet their health needs and personal goals.

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