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Sufficient Folate Intake Mandatory for Nursing Mothers

There is substantial evidence that sufficient folate intake and storage in pregnant women are protective against low birth weight, neural tube birth defects, and damage to the mother's health. But folate requirements for nursing mothers are not well established. Furthermore, even healthy mothers can become folate deficient in the postpartum period.

This study assessed the effects of dietary and supplemental folate intakes during extended lactation.

The study was a double-blind, randomized, long-term supplementation trial involving 42 lactating women. All subjects received a multivitamin and mineral supplement and either 1 mg of folic acid or a placebo. Results were monitored at three months and six months.

It was found that dietary folate needs were far greater than previously estimated. Lactation depletes the mother's folate stores sufficiently that supplementation with 400 micrograms daily may be insufficient. The 600 micrograms per day needed during pregnancy may be higher than is called for during lactation, but around 500 micrograms of supplemental folate may be adequate.

Conclusions: Nursing mothers may be getting enough folate to keep up the folate index of their milk, thereby providing adequate nutrition for their infants. But supplemental folate intake is necessary to protect the mothers themselves from using up their folate stores, putting them at risk for cardiovascular and other ailments and endangering the well-being of the fetus in their next pregnancy.

Mackey AD, Picciano MF. Maternal folate status during extended lactation and the effect of supplemental folic acid. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Feb. 1999;69, pp285-92.


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