OBJECTIVES: To determine the proportion of women who took folate supplementation prior to conception and in the first three months of pregnancy and/or increased folate dietary intake; to determine how folate supplementation varied with socio-demographic factors; and to describe the ways women had seen or heard about folate prior to pregnancy. METHODS: Two population-based surveys were used: the Victorian Survey of Recent Mothers 2000 and the 2001 NSW Child Health Survey. RESULTS: Thirty-six per cent of women in Victoria reported taking periconceptional folate supplements compared with 46% in NSW. In Victoria, 8%, and in NSW, 28% of women had increased dietary folate intake. In both surveys younger women, women with less education, less income, of non-English speaking background and women who were not married were less likely to take folate supplements in the recommended period. In Victoria, multiparous women were significantly less likely to take supplements. In NSW, women with an unplanned pregnancy and those living in rural areas were significantly less likely to take periconceptional folate supplements. Fifty-three per cent of women cited a general practitioner or obstetrician as a source of folate information and 45% cited family or friends; both of these sources were significantly associated with periconceptional folate supplementation. CONCLUSIONS: Less than 50% of women took periconceptional folate supplements. Among socially disadvantaged groups, the proportion was significantly lower. IMPLICATIONS: Since women are unlikely to achieve adequate folate intake periconceptionally without deliberate action, there remains the need for a multifaceted approach to providing women with information about folate. Future surveys are needed to monitor usage and knowledge.