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Folate and iron during pregnancy

20 August 2015

During pregnancy your body needs extra vitamins, minerals and nutrients to help your baby develop. The best way of getting these vitamins is through your diet. Here are just 2 essential nutrients.


Folate is a B vitamin and is added to food or supplements as folic acid. Folate is important for your baby’s development during early pregnancy because it helps prevent birth abnormalities like spina-bifida.

The best way to make sure you get enough folate is to take a daily folic acid supplement of 400 to 600 micrograms one month before becoming pregnant and during the first three months of pregnancy. If you have a family history of neural tube defects you may need even more folate, so you should consult your doctor.

It is also important to eat foods that have added folic acid or are naturally rich in folate. Foods with folic acid added to them (fortified) include most breads, some breakfast cereals, and fruit juices. Check the nutrition information panel on the package to find out how much folate is present.

Foods naturally rich in folate include green leafy vegetables such as broccoli, spinach and salad greens, chick peas, nuts, orange juice, some fruits and dried beans and peas.


It’s essential for making haemoglobin, the protein in red blood cells that carries oxygen to other cells. It helps you maintain a healthy immune system. The amount of blood in your body increases during pregnancy until you have almost 50 percent more blood than usual, so you need more iron to make more haemoglobin. Pregnant women require 27 milligrams (mg) of iron per day and non-pregnant women require 18 mg.

Red meat is one of the best sources of iron for pregnant women. (Liver provides the highest concentration of iron, but because it contains unsafe amounts of vitamin A, its best avoided during pregnancy.) If your diet doesn’t include animal protein, you can get iron from legumes, vegetables, and grains.

There are two forms of iron: non-haem iron, which is found in plants (as well as in meat, poultry, and fish), and haem iron, which is found only in animal products. Haem iron is easier for your body to absorb. (Iron-fortified foods and supplements provide non-haem iron.) To make sure you’re getting enough, eat a variety of iron-rich foods every day.

Common sources of haem iron are red meat, poultry, and fish which are all good sources of haem iron. Common sources of non-haem iron are oats, legumes, lentils, nuts and seeds, molasses spinach and other leafy greens.

Dinielle Farquharson – Nutritionist