Seven Risk Factors for Neural Tube Defects

We discuss all the time the importance of expectant mothers taking folic acid to help drastically reduce the risk of their babies developing a neural tube defect. 

At this point, the exact causes of NTDs are unknown. However, there are things that have been found to increase a woman’s risk of having a baby with an NTD.

  • Some experts believe that some NTDs may be caused by genetics, meaning they can be passed from parents to children through genes. Therefore, the risk is higher if you or your partner have a family history of NTDs.
  • For parents who have previously had a baby with an NTD, there’s a 2-to-3-percent chance of having a baby with an NTD in another pregnancy.
  • Expectant mothers who take anti-seizure medicines should talk to their medical professional before becoming pregnant as these medications have been found to increase NTD risk.
  • Some studies show that obesity can increase your risk. If you’re obese, you have an excess amount of body fat and a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or higher.
  • Uncontrolled diabetes can increase the risk of NTDs. If you have diabetes, make sure to talk with your medical professional before getting pregnant. Also remember to eat a diet of healthy foods and be active every day.
  • Women who use opioids in the first two months of pregnancy, whether prescribed or not, are at a higher risk for several health concerns. If you take any opioid during pregnancy, it can cause serious problems for your baby, like premature birth and drug withdrawal. If you’re pregnant and taking any drug or medicine that may be an opioid, tell your health care provider right away.
  • Higher body temperature in early pregnancy is also a concern, whether caused by a fever or spending a lot of time in a sauna or hot tub. It’s best to avoid more extreme temperatures during pregnancy.

Of course, the best way to reduce the risk of NTDs is by taking 400 mcg of folic acid each day for at least one month before pregnancy and through the first trimester. Folic acid supplements are available over the counter and cost less than a one cent a pill. Also, eating a regular diet of foods rich in folic acid, like cereals and grains, pasta, beans, peanuts, leafy greens, asparagus, and citrus fruits, will help.