This week is Spina Bifida Awareness Week. I am often surprised and alarmed to note that many women do not know why folate is important in pregnancy and even more importantly when it is required. It is important throughout the whole pregancy but it is ESSENTIAL on approx day 18-21 of pregnancy!

There has been much research on folate and pregnancy, it is now known that women, who have adequate intakes of folate for  at least 1 to 2 months before they conceive a baby, and for the first 6 to 12 weeks of their pregnancy, have a greatly reduced chance of having a baby with abnormalities known as neural tube defects. The likelihood of having a baby with a neural tube defect is reduced by up to 70% when adequate folic acid is taken.

Neural tube defects occur when there are problems with the development of the baby’s brain, skull and spinal cord. The baby’s neural tube normally closes approximately between week 3 and 4 of pregnancy (day 18-28, approx 5-6 weeks after the woman’s last period). If there is a deficiency in folate at this point, a neural tube defect eg spina bifida and anencephaly will occur.

Unfortunatley; this is so early in the pregnancy that many women are unaware they are pregnant.

Adequate folate acid also appears to decrease the incidence of some other abnormalities, such as cleft lip and/or palate.

Folate (vitamin B9 also called folic acid, folinic acid and 5-Methyltetrahydrofolate), plays a role in DNA and RNA synthesis and is  therefore critical in cellular division. In order to divide properly cells need adequate folate. The development and growth of a foetus involves constant cell division, which leads to an increase in the mother’s demand for folate.

Preconception preparation is important, not everyone has a planned pregnancy which is why all women of child bearing age who are sexual active must know their folate status. Talk to your GP about a simple blood test to see if you have good levels of folate.

Many medications can reduce your folate levels, most commonly in women it is the birth control pill or implant/injection. If you are coming off the pill it is important to know you are at a high risk of being deficient in folate, especially if you are planning to conceive. It is advisable to allow a minimum of three months or even better six months before attempting to conceive after stopping the contraceptive pill/implant/injections.

Alcohol and a poor diet can also cause a folate deficiency. It is important to have optimal folate levels (not adequate or low).

Folate supplementation alone may cause imbalances in other B vitamins so it is best to take a suitable good quality pregnancy multivitamin with good levels of folinic acid, 5-methyltetrahydrofolate or folic acid). For your body to make and digest folate in the body – you also need good quality bacteria in your digestive system so taking a probiotic supplement may also be useful.

Some foods have now been fortified with folic acid (some pastas, breads and cereals). These foods are highly inflammatory and very unhealthy so I would not recommend you eat these. It is better to eat foods that naturally contain folate!

For more personalised information about the best foods to eat or appropriate good quality supplements call us on 47 222 111 to make an appointment with our Nutritionists or book via our website.

Examples of foods that naturally contain folate are:

Chicken Vegetable juice (carrot, celery, silverbeet & parsley)
Lamb Avocado
Chick peas Soy bean
Sesame seeds Lentils
Hazelnuts (raw) Peanuts (raw)
Spinach Almonds
Watercress, chives Asparagus
Kale Broccoli
Brussels Sprouts Limes
Leek Cauliflower
Peas Cabbage