October is National Spina Bifida month. All month long, efforts are underway to raise awareness about this devastating birth defect and how to help prevent it.
Spina bifida, which means “cleft spine,” occurs in the womb early in the development progress. It’s what happens when the backbone that protects the spinal cord doesn’t form and close properly. The defect results in varying degrees of damage to the spinal cord and nerves and can lead to problems with walking and bowel/bladder control in life.
Anywhere from 1,500 to 2,000 children in the U.S. are born each year with spina bifida.
There is no known cause for the defect and thus, 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. In some cases, fetal surgery is an option, which is performed in utero.
While there is no known cure for spina bifida, research has shown that women taking 400 mcg of folic acid every day can reduce their baby’s risk of spina bifida and other neural tube defects by up to 70%.
To get the full effect of folic acid, the vitamin B supplement needs to be in the system before conception. It’s advised that women already be taking folic acid as early as four weeks before becoming pregnant and continue taking it during the first three months of pregnancy.
The suggestion is due to how early in the development process spina bifida can develop. The neural tube develops early in fetal development, with the top of the tube becoming the brain and the remainder the spinal cord, within the first 28 days of pregnancy.
Getting folic acid is easy. It’s an over the counter supplement that is incredibly inexpensive. Folic acid 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.
To learn more about spina bifida and folic acid, visit our FAQ page.