Neural Tube Defects

Woman getting scan

January is National Birth Defects Prevention Month. Neural tube defects are one type of birth defect that affect the formation of the spinal cord and brain. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report “In the United States, 3,000 pregnancies are affected by neural tube defects every year… worldwide there are more than 300,000 babies born with neural tube defects each year.” The two most common neural tube defects, which occur early in the pregnancy, are spina bifida and anencephaly.

Spina Bifida

Spina Bifida results when the neural tube does not close properly, therefore the backbone doesn’t fully protect the spinal cord and nerves. Disabilities will depend on the size and location of the spinal opening and whether the spinal cord and nerves have been damaged.


If the upper portion of the neural tube does not close properly, the baby’s brain and skill will not form properly, resulting in anencephaly.

Neural Tube Defect Prevention

The CDC has spent over 20 years researching the prevention of neural tube defects. The findings show, when women of childbearing age and those who are pregnant take 400 mg of folic acid [also known as folate and Vitamin B9] daily, the risk of neural tube defects reduces significantly.

As a result of research, “in 1996, the FDA [Food & Drug Administration] mandated that all food products made from enriched grain flours be fortified with folic acid … the number of NTDs in the United States have been reduced by more than 30% since this mandate,” the CDC reports.

Women can also ensure their daily folic acid intake via vitamins or supplements, or by eating foods naturally rich in folate, such as leafy green veggies, asparagus, broccoli, beans, peas, and lentils.

Remember, neural tube defects affect a small percentage of pregnancies and the CDC reports, “Up to 85 percent of neural tube defects can be prevented if women consume enough folic acid before and during early pregnancy.” Should you have any questions about your baby’s development or steps you can take to prevent neural tube defects prior to becoming pregnant, please contact your Capital Women’s Care provider.

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