If a woman of childbearing age takes 400 micrograms of folic acid every day before and during early pregnancy, it can help reduce her baby’s risk for neural tube defects (NTDs). NTDs are birth defects of the brain and spinal cord. Spina bifida is the most common neural tube defect, affecting 1,500 to 2000 babies a year.
A baby’s neural tube normally develops into the brain and spinal cord. It starts out as a tiny, flat ribbon that turns into a tube by the end of the first month of pregnancy. NTDs happen if the tube doesn’t close completely.
Since birth defects of the brain and spine happen in the first few weeks of pregnancy, they often occur before a woman knows she’s pregnant. This is why it is important for a woman of childbearing age to take folic acid every day, even if she isn’t planning a pregnancy any time soon. By the time a woman realizes she’s pregnant, it might be too late to prevent these birth defects.
Types of spina bifida
There are four types of spina bifida, ranging from mild to severe. The mildest form (occulta), usually doesn’t cause health problems. However, other forms such as closed neural tube, meningocele and myelomeningocele (also known as open spina bifida) may cause symptoms such as bladder problems, infections and paralysis.
Spina bifida can also cause a number of medical conditions. If your child has spina bifida, he will need a team of medical professionals to monitor his health:
- Pediatrician – a doctor who takes care of babies and children
- Developmental Behavioral Pediatrician – a pediatrician with additional training in developmental disorders
- Neurologist – a doctor who treats problems of the nervous system, brain and spinal cord
- Psychologist – a professional trained to treat social and mental health problems
- Psychiatrist – a doctor who specializes in treating mental health disorders
- Urologist – a doctor who treats problems of the urinary tract (kidneys, bladder, ureters, and urethra)
- Orthopedist – a doctor trained to treat disorders of bones, joints, muscles, ligaments, nerves, tendons and overall physical movement problems
- Occupational Therapist – a professional trained to help with activities of daily living and fine motor problems
- Physical Therapist – a professional trained to treat movement, balance, strength and physical problems
Learn more about the causes, types and treatments of spina bifida, on our website.
Take a multivitamin with 400 micrograms of folic acid every day, BEFORE and early in pregnancy, to help prevent certain birth defects.