You might have heard about the important role folic acid plays in reducing neural tube defects. Taking folic acid during pregnancy helps reduce such birth defects.
You can also take folic acid while breastfeeding.
Why is folic acid important for breastfeeding women?
Folic acid plays an important role in a baby’s brain development. A folic acid deficiency, particularly in the first trimester of pregnancy, increases the risk of a neural tube defect, such as spina bifida, in your baby.
Folic acid reduces the risk of spina bifida by 70%. This is why it is recommended that all pregnant women, or women who are planning pregnancy, take a daily supplement of folic acid during their pregnancy.
Studies suggest that folic acid can also continue to help baby’s brain development after birth.
The World Health Organization recommends that women should continue taking folic acid daily while breastfeeding.
How long should I take folic acid after delivery?
Many women continue taking their prenatal vitamins after giving birth. This is to ensure that their breast milk contains all of the vital nutrients their baby requires for normal development.
It’s safe to continue taking prenatal vitamins for your entire breastfeeding journey. If you are unsure about which supplements you should be taking, ask your doctor or healthcare provider for advice.
Is folate different from folic acid?
Although the terms are often used interchangeably, folic acid is the synthetic form of the vitamin folate. Folate is also know as vitamin B9 and is found in many foods we consume.
Most people get enough folate from the foods they eat. Because there is an increased need for folate in pregnant and breastfeeding women, a folic acid supplementation is also required.
What is the daily recommended intake of folate for pregnant and lactating women?
The recommended daily intake of folic acid while breastfeeding is 500 mcg (or 0.5 mg).
For pregnant women, the recommended intake between is 600-800 mcg (0.6-0.8g) per day.
The need for folic acid is higher during pregnancy as there is increased cell generation during fetal development. Folic acid helps healthy cells regenerate during pregnancy and breastfeeding.
Most people get enough folate from food combined with daily folic acid supplementation.
Can too much folic acid harm my baby?
The upper limit of folic acid recommended is 1000 mcg (or 1 mg) per day.
This might vary, depending on your family history, whether you have any medical conditions or you are taking certain medications.
You cannot get too much folate from consuming foods where folate naturally occurs but you can get too much folic acid from supplements. With many types of supplements, the body flushes out the excess; however, this is not the case with folic acid.
As part of an ongoing prospective birth cohort study on early life determinants of autism, it was discovered that excessive amounts of folate during pregnancy increased the risk of that child developing autism spectrum disorder.
Too much folic acid might also hide the symptoms of a vitamin B12 deficiency, which can cause nerve damage.
You can read more about vitamin B and breastfeeding in BellyBelly’s article Vitamin B While Breastfeeding | Why It Is Important.
Does folic acid increase milk supply?
Folic acid does not increase breast milk supply in breastfeeding women.
Breast milk production is initiated hormonally, then maintained on the principle of supply and demand.
You can read more about this is BellyBelly’s article How Does Breastfeeding Work? An Explanation.
Having a healthy diet with adequate vitamins and nutrients supports your body to heal after giving birth. Choosing nutrient dense foods ensures you are consuming enough calories to replace the extra energy burned while breastfeeding your baby.
What happens to babies if their mothers do not consume enough folic acid?
If you do not take a folic acid supplement during your pregnancy, your baby has a higher risk of a birth defect affecting the brain and spinal cord, such as spina bifida.
Spina bifida is a birth defect where the baby’s spinal cord does not develop properly in utero. Spina bifida leads to motor and sensory problems, as well as bowel and bladder problems.
Other neural tube defects affect the brain. Anencephaly is a condition in which the brain and skull are not properly developed. All babies with anencephaly will either be stillborn or die soon after birth.
Taking a prenatal vitamin supplements can also reduce the risk of a baby being born with a cleft lip or palate.
You can read more about cleft lip and palate in BellyBelly’s article Cleft Lip And Palate | 6 Critical Risk Factors You Need To Know.
Which foods contain folate?
Mand food naturally contain folate.
Some of these foods are:
- Citrus fruits
- Dark leafy greens
- Other vegetables, such as beans, carrot and broccoli
Which foods contain folic acid?
In many countries, including Australia and the United States of America, folic acid is added to foods to enhance their nutritional value. This is a requirement of food manufacturers, to reduce the risk of neural tube defects.
Some foods with added folic acid are:
- Fortified breads
- Breakfast cereals
- White rice