Understanding and Preventing Spina Bifida

This month, efforts are underway nationwide to increase awareness of the devastating birth defect known as spina bifida, as well as the ways to help prevent it.

We believe strongly in working to prevent spina bifida. For one reason, because it’s more common than most people realize. Each year, anywhere from 1,500 to 2,000 children in the U.S. are born with the birth defect.

Spina bifida, which means “split spine” in Latin, occurs in the womb early in the child’s development process. It occurs when the baby’s spinal cord fails to develop or close properly.

Symptoms include varying degrees of damage to the spinal cord and nerves and can lead to problems with walking and bowel/bladder control in life. Often, it can be seen on the skin as an abnormal tuft of hair, a birthmark, or protruding spinal cord tissue above the defect.

There is no known cause for the defect and no cure. Treatment depends on the severity of the condition but typically includes surgery within the first few days of life, closing the defect to minimize the risk of infection or further trauma.

While there is no known cure for spina bifida, the risks of the defect can be greatly reduced. Research has shown that women who take 400 mcg of folic acid every day leading up to, and during, their pregnancy, can reduce their baby’s risk of developing spina bifida, as well as other neural tube defects, by up to 70%.

Because spina bifida develops so early during the pregnancy -- within the first 28 days of pregnancy -- it’s advised that women already be taking folic acid as early as four weeks to three months before becoming pregnant and continue taking it during the first three months of pregnancy.

Folic acid is available over the counter and does not require a prescription. Though, it is advised that all women planning on becoming pregnant discuss using folic acid with their physician beforehand. 

Folic acid is also very inexpensive, costing as little as $0.01 a pill. The supplement can also be found in grain products like cereals, breads, and pastas labeled “enriched,” as well as foods like leafy greens, beans, rice, and citrus fruits like oranges. 

Spina bifida can happen to any baby, which is why it’s so important for all women of child-bearing age to make folic acid part of their daily regimen.

Since October is Spina bifida month, now is the time to learn more about this birth defect and folic acid. Visit our FAQ pageand be sure to share this story with the hashtag #NationalSpinaBifidaMonth on social media.