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Pregnancy and folic acid

Adequate intake of folate (dietary form), a vitamin of the B complex, and folic acid (a form in vitamin supplements) is important for the normal development of the fetus. In several population-based studies, the adequate intake of folic acid has been shown to reduce the risk of congenital malformations, in particular defective fusions of the neural tube. Adequate intake of folic acid reduces the occurrence of these severe malformations by up to 70%.

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Intake recommendations

The organ system of a fetus is formed during early pregnancy by the end of week 12 of pregnancy. In view of starting to take a folic acid supplement, the first visit to the pre-natal clinic between week 8 or 10 of pregnancy comes at a late stage. 

• In addition to a varied diet for all women planning to become pregnant, the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare recommends a daily intake of 0.4 milligrams of folic acid vitamin supplement as early as two months before ceasing to use contraception. The Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare’s “Eating Together - food recommendations for families with children”

• If your fetus has been diagnosed with a defective fusion of the neural tube in a previous pregnancy, or if you have experienced a case of defective fusion of the neural tube yourself or in your immediate family, an intake dose of 4.0 milligrams per day is recommended. In other risk groups (e. g. mothers with diabetes, mothers taking antiepileptic medicines or lithium), the dose recommendation is also higher (1–4 mg per day at the discretion of the physician).

Folic acid is an inexpensive and safe dietary supplement and medicine. At the pharmacy, you can get 0.4 milligram tablets without a prescription. Multivitamin tablets for pregnancy also contain this amount.

In addition to folic acid supplements, products containing methylfolate or folate glucosamine salt as source of folate are also available. It has been suggested that folate from these products can be used more efficiently by the body than from products containing synthetic folic acid. However, there is insufficient research data and the protective effect (reduced risk of defective fusion of the neural tube) has been established specifically with folic acid products. For this reason, the official recommendations also place particular emphasis on the use of a folic acid product.

Sources of folate in food

Folate is found in green vegetables, broccoli, beans, whole grain products as well as fruits and berries. However, with the increased use of highly processed food and changed eating habits, the dietary intake of folate is clearly lower than the general recommendation in Finnish women of childbearing age.

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