June is Spina Bifida Awareness Month in Canada and various associations take this opportunity to inform women of childbearing age that they can prevent this neural tube defect by as much as 70% by taking the right dose of folic acid starting at least three months before pregnancy.
Research shows that the consumption of multivitamins containing folic acid, during pregnancy, reduces the risk of the baby having spina bifida. The intake of folic acid, vitamin B12 and iron should be greater at the beginning of the pregnancy and even before conception. Vitamin and mineral deficiencies can generally have negative effects on the health of both mother and child.
What are birth defects?
The risk of some problems, due to abnormal separation of genetic material (chromosomes), increases with the mother’s age. Currently, birth defects are the leading cause of death for infants during the first year of life.
There are two main types of birth defects: structural and functional. Structural birth defects are related to a problem with body parts. Functional birth defects are related to a problem with how a body part or body system works.
Some structural problems include cleft lip or cleft palate, heart defects such as missing or misshaped valves, and abnormal limbs, such as a club foot. They also include neural tube defects such as spina bifida – problems that are related to the growth and development of the brain and spinal cord.
Who is at risk of having a baby with a NTD?
Any woman who could become pregnant is at risk of having a baby with a neural tube defect. You may be at greater risk of having a baby with a NTD if:
- you have had a previous pregnancy affected by NTD's
- you (or your partner) have a personal or family history of NTD's
- you have insulin-dependent diabetes
- you use certain anti-seizure medications
- you have clinically diagnosed obesity
- you are not consuming enough vegetables and fortified flour-based foods containing folic acid
What is folic acid?
Folic acid – also known as folate or folacin when it naturally occurs in foods – is a B vitamin that is essential for the healthy development of a baby’s spine, brain and skull during the early weeks of pregnancy. Folic acid has been proven to help reduce the risk of NTDs by as much as 70% if taken before pregnancy, and has also been shown to reduce the risk of other birth defects, including cleft palate and heart abnormalities.