Why do I need folic acid?

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Why do I need folic acid?

Nutrients & Vitamins for Pregnancy 

By Dr Myran Ponnam-Palam

Women trying to conceive or in the early stages of pregnancy often ask for advice on what vitamins and minerals they should be consuming. Currently, there is clear recommendation for one vitamin that all women should take, this being Folate (Vitamin B9), or its synthetic form, folic acid. Supplementation with other vitamins and minerals is best discussed with your medical practitioner prior to starting.

What is folic acid?

Folic acid is the synthetic form of folate that can be bought as a vitamin supplement. It is also added to many of the processed foods we consume, such as breakfast cereals. The synthetic form (folic acid) is more easily absorbed from our intestines than naturally occurring folate, usually found in leafy green vegetables, oranges, legumes and beef liver.

The current recommendation by The Royal Australian College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists is that folic acid supplementation at least one month prior to starting to conceive and up to 12 weeks of pregnancy is important. Women who may be experiencing difficulty conceiving are advised to continue on folic acid whilst trying to conceive.

Why take folic acid?

The body needs folic acid to make new cells and in pregnant women, the unborn baby in early development needs folic acid to properly form their nervous system. Folic acid supplementation has clearly been shown to decrease the risk of Neural Tube Defects. Neural Tube is the early tissue in the developing baby that later goes on to form the brain and spinal cord. Neural tube defects can lead to conditions such as Spina bifida.

Various studies also suggest that folic acid may help reduce other developmental anomalies in the baby and possibly decrease risk of miscarriage. This vitamin is also important for the formation of blood cells in the mother and the baby, and thus prevents anaemia.

What dose of folic acid is required?

The recommended dose is 0.5 mg per day. Folic acid can be purchased at your local pharmacy or supermarket without a prescription and are often sold as part of a multivitamin.

A higher dose of folic acid (5 mg/day) is recommended for higher risk groups.

You are at greater risk if you or your partner:
  • Already have a child with neural tube defect
  • Have neural tube defect yourself
  • Have a close relative affected by neural tube defect
  • Take medicine for epilepsy or seizures that can affect folate absorption
  • Have type 1 diabetes


All women of childbearing age are recommended to increase their folate intake. Taking folic acid supplementation is the most effective way to ensure adequate daily intake. If you are unsure about the dose of folic acid supplementation that is right for you, please consult with your medical practitioner.

Myran is a Melbourne IVF Fertility Specialist with broad ranging clinical experience in male and female infertility issues, gained in both Australia and the US. He completed his sub-specialist training in Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility in Sydney and Melbourne. Myran first commenced research in the field of Reproductive Science over 20 years ago. 

To book an appointment to see Myran speak with our Community Liaison Administrator on 1800 111 483 Monday to Friday 9.00am to 5.00pm (excluding public holidays) or email us for further information.

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