The neural tube is the part of the baby that forms the brain, spinal cord and spine within the first month of pregnancy. When the neural tube does not form correctly, a serious birth defect can develop called a neural tube defect (NTD). NTDs occur very early in pregnancy, even before most women know they are pregnant.
- Babies with an NTD can have a range of physical and mental disabilities. Some NTD-affected pregnancies end in miscarriage or stillbirth.
- In the US, approximately 3,000 babies are born each year with an NTD (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 2004). One hundred (100) babies were born with an NTD in Florida in 2007 (Florida Department of Health 1998-2007).
- NTDs impact many people. Families and friends of children with NTDs must cope with the physical, emotional, and financial effects of these serious birth defects.
- Children born with NTDs usually need life-long medical treatment. The lifetime medical costs for just one child with spina bifida was estimated to be over $450,000 in 2009 (CDC 2010).
- Folate is a B vitamin that is very important in the development of a baby.
- All females able to become pregnant should take 400 micrograms of folic acid every day.
We don't completely understand how folic acid prevents neural tube defects.
- Some studies suggest that taking folic acid makes up for a diet poor in folate.
- Other studies suggest that it counteracts a problem with the body's ability to use and process folate (i.e., folate metabolism).
Even though we don't know exactly how it works, there is strong scientific evidence that folic acid can help prevent many neural tube defects. Emerging research shows that folic acid may help to reduce the risk of other birth defects of the heart, face, urinary tract and limbs.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2004) Spina Bifida and Anencephaly Before and After Folic Acid Mandate--United States. MMWR 53:362-365
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. http://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/spinabifida/data.html. Accessed July 15, 2010.
- Florida Department of Health, Florida Birth Defects Registry, 1998-2007. http://www.fbdr.org/2005/data/countyList.asp. Accessed July 15, 2010.
Folate is needed for good health and may help reduce the risk of serious birth defects and some chronic diseases such as heart disease and certain cancers.