Spina Bifida: Risks And Prevention

Birth defects are a leading cause of death for infants during the first year of life. They are structural or functional abnormalities present at birth that cause physical or mental disability. In the case of Spina Bifida also called ‘Split Spine’, the defect occurs when the spine and spinal cord don’t form properly.

It falls under the broader category of neural tube defects, a fairly common but preventable defect in newborns.

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What Causes Spina Bifida?

As with many other birth disorders, the cause is probably a combination of genetic and environmental factors. Although doctors and researchers don’t know for sure why spina bifida occurs, they have identified some risk factors.

  • Folate Deficiency: The synthetic form of folate (Vitamin B9) is found in supplements and fortified foods as folic acid. Folate is the natural form of vitamin B9 and is essential to the healthy development of a baby in the uterus. A deficiency of this vitamin increases the risk of Spina Bifida and other neural tube defects.
  • Family History of Neural tube Defects: Couples who’ve had one child with a neural tube defect have a slightly higher chance of having another baby with the same defect. That risk increases if two previous children have been affected by the condition. In addition, a woman who was born with a neural tube defect has a greater chance of giving birth to a child with spina bifida. However, most babies with spina bifida are born to parents with no known family history of the condition.
  • Taking Certain Anti-seizure Medications: Certain anti-seizure medications seem to cause neural tube defects when taken during pregnancy, possibly because they interfere with the body’s ability to use folate and folic acid.
  • Uncontrolled Diabetes & Obesity


Taking Folic acid as supplement from at least one month before conception and continuing through the first trimester of pregnancy, greatly reduces the risk of spina bifida and other neural tube defects, according to experts.

Planning Pregnancy

If you’re actively trying to conceive, most pregnancy experts believe supplementation of at least 400 mcg of folic acid a day is the best approach for women planning pregnancy.

Your body doesn’t absorb folate as easily as it absorbs synthetic folic acid, and most people don’t get the recommended amount of folate through diet alone, so vitamin supplements are necessary to prevent spina bifida. And, it’s possible that folic acid will also help reduce the risk of other birth defects, including cleft lip, cleft palate, and some congenital heart defects.

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It’s also a good idea to eat a healthy diet, including foods rich in folate or enriched with folic acid. This vitamin is present naturally in many foods, including:

  • Beans
  • Citrus fruits and juices
  • Egg yolks
  • Dark green vegetables, such as pumpkin leaves and spinach


The severity of the condition varies and will determine what types of options your doctor will recommend, even though the original nerve damage may not be repairable.

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