Healthdirect Free Australian health advice you can count on.

Medical problem? Call 1800 022 222. If you need urgent medical help, call triple zero immediately

healthdirect Australia is a free service where you can talk to a nurse or doctor who can help you know what to do.

beginning of content


3-minute read

Folate is a vitamin that our bodies need in order to grow and develop. We all need folate, but it’s especially important in pregnant women because a lack of folate can lead to neural tube defects in unborn babies.

What is folate?

Folate is one of the B-Group vitamins. It’s called folate when it occurs naturally in food, and ‘folic acid’ when it comes in the form of a food additive or supplement. It is sometimes called vitamin B9 and is vital for healthy growth and development.

What does folate do?

Your body uses folate to:

  • make DNA
  • form red blood cells
  • grow and repair cells and tissues.
  • It’s particularly important that women get enough folate during pregnancy. In a developing foetus (baby in the womb), folate is needed for growth and the formation of the ‘neural tube’ in weeks 5 and 6 of pregnancy. The neural tube is a layer of cells that goes on to form the brain and spinal cord. If this tube doesn’t fuse properly, it causes a neural tube defect such as spina bifida.

    Good sources of folate

    Unless you need extra folate – such as in the early stages of pregnancy – you can probably get all the folate you need from your diet. Some of the best sources are food products that have had folic acid added to them. This includes many breakfast cereals, bread, fruit juices and Vegemite.

    Other good sources of folate (folate is measured in micrograms, 'µg', and 1,000,000µg equals 1g)

  • green vegetables (e.g. spinach, 131µg per half cup)
  • legumes (e.g. black-eyed peas, 105µg per half cup)
  • rice (90µg per half cup)
  • avocado (59µg per half cup)
  • fruit (e.g. a small orange contains 29µg).
  • beef liver, braised (215µg per 85g)
  • How much folate do I need?

    Everyone needs folate, but the amount you need changes depending on your age and other factors.

    The Australian Government recommends the following intakes of folate:


  • 1-3 years – 150µg per day
  • 4-8 years – 200µg per day
  • 9-13 years – 300µg per day
  • 14-17 years – 400µg per day
  • Adults

  • 18 years and older (men; non-pregnant women) – 400µg per day
  • Breastfeeding women – 500µg per day
  • Pregnant women – 600µg per day
  • If you are planning on getting pregnant or are in the early stages of pregnancy, it’s best to take a daily folic acid supplement, as well as eat high-folate foods. Aim for a minimum of 400µg of folate per day, for at least one month before and three months after falling pregnant if you can. Some women need more folate, so you should see your doctor for advice.

    What happens if I don’t get enough folate?

    Folate deficiency (not getting adequate folate) is one of the most common vitamin deficiencies in Australia. The main risks are having a baby with a neural tube defect (if you’re pregnant), and developing a condition called ‘folate deficiency anaemia’.

    If you have this type of anaemia, your body makes red blood cells that are larger than normal and which don't work properly. People most at risk include pregnant women, the elderly, people who drink excessive amounts of alcohol, and those who take certain medications.

    The main symptoms include:

  • extreme fatigue
  • headaches
  • pale skin
  • feeling sore inside the mouth.
  • When to seek help

    Folate deficiency can lead to serious problems, so it’s best to see your doctor as soon as possible if you think you could be deficient.

    You can have your folate levels checked by having a blood test. If you have folate deficiency, you will probably need to take folic acid tablets for a few months.

    Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

    Last reviewed: November 2017

    Need more information?

    These trusted information partners have more on this topic.

    Top results

    Folate and pregnancy

    Folate and folic acid are important for pregnancy since they can help prevent birth defects known as neural tube defects, such as spina bifida.

    Read more on Pregnancy, Birth & Baby website

    Department of Health | Folate

    Folate is the common name for folic acid and related compounds which together make up one of the B group of vitamins necessary for healthy growth and development.

    Read more on Department of Health website

    Pregnancy - Pregnancy Topics - Folic acid (Folate) and pregnancy

    Folate is a B group vitamin that helps prevent birth defects known as neural tube defects, such as spina bifida

    Read more on Women's and Children's Health Network website

    What is folate and why is it so important in pregnancy?

    You’ll need to start taking a daily folic acid supplement if you’re trying for a baby or you've just fallen pregnant. Find out more about folic acid, folate and neural tube defects here.

    Read more on Pregnancy, Birth & Baby website

    Folate: crucial for women under 50 Dietitians Association of Australia

    Folate: crucial for women under 50 Folate is a B-group vitamin which is especially important for women of childbearing age

    Read more on Dietitians Association of Australia website

    Vitamin B12 and folate - Lab Tests Online AU

    Why and when to get tested for vitamin B12 and folate

    Read more on Lab Tests Online website

    Folate for pregnant women - Better Health Channel

    Even women who aren't planning to have a baby should increase their folate intake in case of unplanned pregnancy.

    Read more on Better Health Channel website

    Vitamins B6, B9 (Folate), B12 - BluePages

    Find out if Vitamins B6, B9 (Folate), B12 are likely to help.

    Read more on e-hub Web Services - Australian National University (ANU) website

    Pregnancy - Pregnancy Topics - Watching what you eat before pregnancy

    When you're thinking about having a baby, it's really important to eat healthy food, to include lots of foods that are folate-rich and to start taking a folic acid supplement at least one month before becoming pregnant

    Read more on Women's and Children's Health Network website

    Why do you need to take folic acid when pregnant? | Queensland Health

    Learn about why folic acid is important in pregnancy.

    Read more on Queensland Health website

    Healthdirect 24hr 7 days a week hotline

    24 hour health advice you can count on

    1800 022 222

    Government Accredited with over 140 information partners

    We are a government-funded service, providing quality, approved health information and advice

    Australian Government, health department logo ACT Government logo New South Wales government, health department logo Northen Territory Government logo Government of South Australia, health department logo Tasmanian government logo Government of Western Australia, health department logo