Do you know just how important folate is during your pregnancy? MH speaks to the experts to find out more about folate.
WORDS SAMANTHA TAN
Thinking of getting pregnant? Or are you already pregnant? If you are the latter, firstly, congratulations! Now’s the time to start reading up on pregnancy and all that it encompasses, from the first trimester to the third. Even if you are not yet pregnant, there’s certainly no harm in learning more about pregnancy, starting now with the importance of folate.
What is folate and why is it important?
Folate is vitamin B9 and is naturally present in many foods. Folic acid, on the other hand, is the synthetic form of folate. Dr Yang Liying, associate consultant, Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology at Singapore General Hospital says, “Folate is an important vitamin that aids in the production of the body's genetic material, for example, DNA and RNA. It is therefore especially important when cells and tissues are growing rapidly, such as during pregnancy.” Dr Christopher Chong, obstetrician and gynaecologist at Gleneagles Hospital adds, “Folate is also needed for the formation of red blood cells. This prevents anaemia, which should be avoided in pregnancy.”
Folate is also important because it helps to prevent neural defects.
Dr Ng Kai Lyn, associate consultant at National University Hospital's Women’s Centre explains how folate helps to prevent neural defects. “Folate helps to prevent neural tube defects, which are serious birth defects of the spinal cord and brain. These conditions are associated with folate deficiency. Folate may also help to lower the risk of other birth defects, such as cleft lip and palate,” she says.
When should I start taking folate?
Most experts recommend to start taking folate as soon as you are trying to conceive. Dr Ng says, “Ideally, you should start taking folic acid three months prior to conceiving, or at least one month prior, as most birth defects of the spinal cord and brain occur very early in pregnancy, even before most women know that they are pregnant.”
What is the effect of folate before, during and after pregnancy?
Dr Yang states, “Folate reduces the risk of neural tube defects, such as defects in the brain and spinal cord, in the foetus. It may also reduce the risk of miscarriage and cleft lip and palate and is also important for producing new red blood cells as a woman's blood volume increases by approximately 40 to 50 per cent during pregnancy.”
Dr Chong adds, “After pregnancy, folate helps to build
back blood loss from delivery as well as improve nutrition,
especially for breastfeeding mums.”
What is the recommended amount of folate intake?
It is recommended that pregnant women should take at least 400mcg of folate. However, Dr Ng advises, “If they have a history of previous babies affected by neural tube defects or if they are taking certain medications such as methotrexate, sulfasalazine, or anti-epileptic medications, they should speak to their doctor about taking a higher dose of folate.” Adding on, Dr Chong says, “It is recommended to take between 400-800mcg of folate before pregnancy and 400-600mcg during pregnancy and after delivery.”
Dr Yang shares, “To get sufficient folate, all pregnant women and those who are attempting to conceive are advised to take a folic acid supplement. They should also increase the intake of folate-rich foods in their diet.”