Preventing Spina Bifida in Children

The exact cause of spina bifida, a group of disorders that result from the incomplete development of the spinal bones, isn’t known. Researchers theorize that genetic, environmental, and nutritional factors may play a role in preventing the neural tube—a bundle of nerves that eventually forms the spinal cord and brain—from closing.

Even though the cause of spina bifida is unclear, a large body of evidence suggests that a woman who plans to become pregnant can dramatically reduce the risk of having a child with the condition by ensuring she gets enough folic acid.

Folic Acid Supplement

NYU Langone specialists strongly encourage all pregnant women to take folic acid, a B vitamin that helps the body produce healthy new cells. Folic acid is especially important during pregnancy, when a woman’s body rapidly makes new cells to fuel the growth of an unborn child.

Folic acid is found in many foods—including beans, peas, spinach, oranges, and enriched breads or cereals—and in dietary supplements. Because spina bifida occurs early in pregnancy, doctors recommend that women who are planning to have a baby start taking 400 micrograms of folic acid every day for at least three months before trying to become pregnant. Women should continue to take folic acid daily throughout pregnancy.

If spina bifida runs in your family and you are pregnant or planning to become pregnant, your doctor may prescribe a 4,000-microgram dose of folic acid to reduce the risk of having a child with the condition.