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Eating healthy, nutritious food is important at every stage in your life. However, body starts to get greedy pregnancy creates its own special nutritional requirements. Nutrients like including iron, calcium, iodine and folic acid are in high demand.

Following a varied and balanced pregnancy diet will generally provide your body with enough vitamins and minerals. But even with the best diet, you might need to take a supplement to meet your new nutritional needs throughout pregnancy.

All pregnant women are advised to take folic acid supplements during their first trimester (12 weeks) of pregnancy. This mineral is essential for the healthy development of your baby – especially in the very beginning when their neural tube is developing.

Speak with your healthcare professional before taking a supplement to make sure it is safe for you and your baby during pregnancy.

The benefits of folic acid in pregnancy

Folic acid is the supplement form of the vitamin, folate. It is a B-group vitamin found in a variety of fresh foods.

Primarily, in early pregnancy folic acid helps protect unborn babies from developing neural tube defects. The neural tube will form two of your baby’s most important body parts – their brain and spinal cord. It is vital that pregnant women are receiving enough of this important vitamin.

When taken before conception and in the first trimester, folic acid may also help to protect your baby against:

  • Having a low birth weight
  • Growing poorly in the womb
  • Folic acid may also reduce your risk of
  • Giving birth prematurely
  • Miscarrying
  • Developing heart disease
  • Having a stroke
  • Developing Alzheimer’s disease

If you are planning to conceive, it’s a good idea to start taking a folic acid supplement before you fall pregnant. Building up your levels of this essential vitamin will give your little one a great start in the womb. In fact, folic acid is so important in the first trimester of pregnancy that some researchers say all women of child bearing age should be taking supplements, even if they aren’t planning a baby.

During the first three months of pregnancy, a daily folic acid supplement is also recommended. It’s important to follow a healthy pregnancy diet full of foods that are naturally rich in folate as well.

Folic acid supplements in Australia and New Zealand

In Australia and New Zealand, you can buy folic acid supplements over the counter from pharmacies.

The recommended daily dose of folic acid supplement for pregnant women is 400 mcg.

Specific folic acid supplements and some pregnancy vitamins will contain an adequate dose of folic acid. Other multi vitamins might not contain the right amount so always check the label.

If you haven’t already, double check with your healthcare professional that any supplement you take is giving you the right amounts of the nutrients you need. Not all pregnancy supplements were created equal and each one will contain varying levels of different vitamins. Finding a supplement that suits your unique needs is crucial.

Foods high in folate

Adding folate-rich foods to your pregnancy diet is another way of meeting your nutritional needs during pregnancy. These are some of the best sources of folate:

  • Spinach
  • Asparagus
  • Broccoli
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Chick peas
  • Dried beans
  • Lentils
  • Bran flakes
  • Cabbage
  • Cauliflower
  • Peas
  • Leeks
  • Oranges and orange juice
  • Parsley
  • Wheat germ
  • Wholegrain bread
  • Bread and cereal products fortified with folic acid