If you are thinking about having a baby, or could become pregnant, you need to know about folic acid.
Folic acid is important to the healthy development of babies in early pregnancy. A baby’s growth is the most rapid in the first weeks of life — often before you are aware you are pregnant.
Folic acid taken at recommended levels at least one month before and three months after conception can prevent most neural tube defects, such as spina bifida.
It is difficult to get enough folic acid from your diet to reduce the risks of neural tube defects in pregnancy. The best way it to take a folic acid supplement of at least 400 micrograms every day, as well as eating foods that have added folic acid and are naturally rich in folate.
Folic acid supplements are available in Australia over the counter from pharmacies and through your doctor at varying doses. Look for supplements that contain at least 400 micrograms of folic acid; these will generally be supplements containing only folic acid or special pregnancy supplements.
Mult vitamin supplements generally contain less.
The foods that might be fortified with folic acid include breakfast cereals, yeast extracts and fruit juices.
Check the ingredient list to see whether folic acid has been added. From September 2009 all bread, except organic, will be fortified with folic acid.
Remember, it’s also important to enjoy a wide variety of other nutritious foods every day. Pregnant women have specific dietary needs and should check with their health professional for further advice.
There is more information about neural tube defects on the Australian Spina Bifida & Hydrocephalus Association website.