MS, RD, LDN, CSSD, CBS
Rachel holds a Master’s in Nutrition Communication from Tufts University and is also a Board Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics. She works as a nutrition and wellness coach with focuses on infant and maternal nutrition, mindful eating, and weight loss.
Folate, or folic acid, is an essential water-soluble B vitamin. Folate is the name of the naturally occurring nutrient found in food. The synthetic form, in supplements or fortified foods, is called folic acid. Folate helps our tissues and cells grow and function, so it’s a crucial nutrient during periods of rapid growth such as in pregnancy, infancy and adolescence. For babies in particular, folate supports the formation of the brain and spinal cord from the neural tube and plays a role in supporting your baby’s brain development.
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Fortunately folate is found naturally in a wide variety of foods, including dark leafy vegetables, fruits, nuts, beans, dairy products, meat, eggs, seafood and grains. Folate is particularly high in spinach, yeast, asparagus and Brussels sprouts. In the US, the Food and Drug Administration requires manufacturers to enrich widely consumed breads, cereals, flours and other grain products with folic acid.
Non-pregnant women aged 19 and older require 400 mcg of folic acid per day. During pregnancy, the requirement increases to 600 mcg per day and to 500 mcg per day while breastfeeding.
While pregnant, supplementation is recommended because it can be difficult to meet the heightened folate requirement through diet alone. In fact, the US Public Health Service recommends that all women of childbearing age who are capable of becoming pregnant take 400 mcg of folic acid daily.Women who have had a child with spina bifida may need higher doses of folic acid, up to 4000 mcg per day starting one month prior to conception.
Evidence suggests that healthful diets with adequate folate may reduce a woman’s risk of having a child with a brain or spinal cord birth defect when taken before conception and continued throughout the first trimester of pregnancy.
Babies up to 6 months of age need 65 mcg of folate daily which increases to 80 mcg from 7-12 months. Children up to 3 years of age need 150 mcg of folic acid daily. Breastfed, full term babies do not need folic acid supplementation unless indicated by the doctor. Once you start introducing solid foods in your baby’s diet, make sure to include foods rich in folic acid and continue doing so as your child grows older so she/he gets enough of this important nutrient.
See “What to Do” section for folate rich foods.
Include folate rich foods in your everyday diet and that of your child. Here are some good sources of folate:
Take a prenatal vitamin with 400 mcg of folic acid
If you are trying to conceive or are already pregnant, take a prenatal supplement that contains folic acid. It is good idea to take folic acid along with other B vitamins as these vitamins work well together.
Speak with your health care provider
Talk to your doctor to determine the best folic acid dose for you. If you are taking other medications, ask your doctor if these interact well with folic acid absorption.