Why does Folate Matter for Babies, Tots, and Mama?

RachelMS, RD, LDN, CSSD, CBS

Read time: 5 minutes

What to know about meeting your and your child’s folate needs

  • Learn why folate is important for you and your child

  • How much folate is needed by age

  • What foods are good sources of folate

What does folate do?

Folate, formerly known as ‘folacin’, is an essential water-soluble B vitamin; B9 to be exact.1 Folate is often used to describe the naturally occurring nutrient found in food, though it is actually a catch-all name for all forms of this B vitamin.2 The synthetic form, generally found in supplements or fortified foods, is called folic acid.2

Folate helps our tissues and cells grow and function, so it’s a crucial nutrient during periods of rapid growth such as in pregnancy, infancy, and adolescence.4 Folate also helps form red blood cells, produce DNA, and works with other nutrients to help use and create new proteins in the body.4

For babies in particular, folate supports the formation of the spinal co2rd and plays a role in supporting your baby’s brain development.6 Getting enough folate while pregnant is particularly important to help prevent neural tube defects.

How much folate is needed?

Below are the Recommended Daily Allowances (RDAs) for folate:

  • Birth to 6 months: 65 mcg

  • 7 to 12 months: 80 mcg

  • 1 to 3 years: 150 mcg

  • 4 to 8 years: 200 mcg

  • 9 to 13 years: 300 mcg

  • 19 - 50 years: 400 mcg

  • Pregnancy: 600 mcg

  • Lactation: 500 mcg3

Breastmilk and formula will provide all the folate needed for infants under 1 year.1

Food sources of folate

Folate is found naturally in a wide variety of foods, including vegetables, beans, nuts, dairy products, seafood, and fortified grains.1

In the US, the Food and Drug Administration requires manufacturers to enrich widely consumed breads, cereals, flours, and other grain products with folic acid.6 This fortification started in 1998 to help reduce the risk of neural tube defects, and is considered one of the most successful public health initiatives.7

Folate in your and your child’s diet

Folate for your baby and toddler

Full term breastfed and formula fed babies do not need folic acid supplementation unless indicated by their healthcare provider.

Once you start introducing solid foods, make sure to include foods rich in folate so that these become a staple of their diet. Continue doing so as your child grows older so that they continue to get enough of this important nutrient.

Read more:

Sample Meal Plan for 6 to 12 Month Old Baby

Sample Meal Plan for 12 Month Old Toddler

Folate for you

While pregnant, supplementation is recommended as it can be difficult to meet the heightened folate requirement through diet alone.8,9 In fact, the US Public Health Service recommends that all women of childbearing age who are capable of becoming pregnant take 400 mcg of folic acid daily.10

While it may be possible to meet folate needs with food alone, studies indicate that most women are only taking in about 48% of the recommended amount.10

Chat with your health care professional to decide if folate supplementation is needed.

Read more:

Which Nutrients do I Need During Pregnancy?

What to Eat while Breastfeeding

Tips for getting enough folate

Include folate-rich food sources in your and your child’s diet regularly

Since there are many foods with folate, having a varied diet that includes fortified whole grains and cereals can help you and your child meet your needs. Choosing different foods each week, such as a new variety of vegetables, beans, and proteins, allows you to get many different foods that not only contain folate, but also numerous other vitamins and minerals.

Here’s a cheat sheet of foods with amounts of folate by serving:

  • Lentils, cooked, ½ cup: 178 mcg

  • Spinach, boiled, ½ cup: 131 mcg

  • Black beans, cooked, ½ cup: 128 mcg

  • Black-eyed peas, boiled, ½ cup: 105 mcg

  • Fortified breakfast cereals: up to 100 mcg

  • Rice, cooked, ½ cup: 90 mcg

  • Asparagus, boiled, 4 spears: 89 mcg

  • Brussels sprouts, boiled, ½ cup: 78 mcg

  • Lettuce, romaine, shredded, 1 cup: 64 mcg

  • Avocado, raw, sliced, ½ cup: 59 mcg

  • Spinach, raw, 1 cup: 58 mcg

  • Broccoli, chopped, frozen, cooked, ½ cup: 52 mcg

  • Mustard greens, chopped, boiled, ½ cup: 52 mcg

  • Green peas, frozen, boiled, ½ cup: 47 mcg

  • Kidney beans, canned, ½ cup: 46 mcg

  • Peanuts, dry roasted, 1 ounce: 41 mcg

  • Wheat germ, 2 tablespoons: 40 mcg

  • Banana, 1 medium: 27 mcg

  • 1 egg: 22 mcg

  • Milk*, 1%, 1 cup: 12 mcg1,1112

*Children under 1 year should not drink cow’s milk. Read more here: How Do I Introduce Milk to my Toddler

Recipe and meal ideas to help increase folate

Try some fun new recipes that are packed with folate! Be sure to provide your little one with foods in a texture they can handle. Feel free to mash any of the below recipes up should your little one need a softer or smoother consistency!

Broccoli, Spinach & Avocado Baby Food

Baked Rice Balls and Salmon and Peas

Bean Roll-Ups “Pinwheels”

Lentil Stew

Consider a pre- and post-natal vitamin with folic acid

If you are trying to conceive or are already pregnant, chat with your healthcare provider about taking a prenatal supplement that contains folic acid. Since folate needs are elevated during lactation as well, you may want to chat with them about taking a supplement with folic acid while breastfeeding also.

If you are taking other medications, ask your provider if these interact with folic acid absorption.

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For more on this topic, check out the following articles:

Meal Plan: Key Nutrients of Pregnancy

Meal Plan: Getting the Right Nutrition while Breastfeeding

Meal Plan for 18 to 24 Month Old Toddlers