What Causes Spina Bifida?

Spina Bifida is a birth defect that can happen to anyone. There is no known cause of Spina Bifida, but research has shown that if a woman takes 400 mcg of folic acid every day, before she becomes pregnant, she reduces her risk of having a baby with Spina Bifida or another neural tube defect by as much as 70%. The exact cause of the remaining cases is unknown, but it is believed that genetics and environment may play a role.

Each of the 65 million women of childbearing age in the U.S. is at risk for having a pregnancy affected by a birth defect like Spina Bifida.

Folic acid can help reduce that risk by up to 70% – but it needs to be taken prior to conception because the brain and spine of the fetus develop within the first 28 days of pregnancy, often before a woman knows she is pregnant.

What is Folic Acid?

Folic acid is a B vitamin that helps a woman’s body produce healthy new cells. Taking folic acid before and during the first three months of pregnancy does not guarantee the baby will not have SB, but it can significantly reduce the risk.

Folic acid comes from foods like green vegetables, fruits and juices. Some cereal and bread have folic acid added to them. A diet high in folate is good for you, but most people do not get enough through food alone.

The best way to get the right amount is to eat a healthy diet, and take a vitamin with folic acid every day.

How Much Should I Take?

SBA encourages EVERY woman of childbearing age to take a daily dose of 400 mcg of folic acid each day.

All women who could become pregnant are at risk for having a pregnancy affected by Spina Bifida. Women who have:

  • A child with Spina Bifida
  • Spina Bifida themselves
  • Already had a pregnancy affected by any neural tube defect

are at greater risk of having a child affected by Spina Bifida or another neural tube defect (NTD). These women have an increased risk of having a future affected pregnancy or recurrence. If any of these apply, you should talk with your health care provider about your folic acid needs.

Folic Acid Recommendations for ALL Women of Childbearing Age:

  • All women of childbearing age need a daily dose of 400 micrograms (0.4 mg) of synthetic folic acid, in addition to a healthy diet.
  • This amount is available through a multivitamin, available in stores.

Additional Recommendations for Women with a Family History of NTDs:

  • A higher prescription dose of 4000 micrograms (4.0 mg) beginning one to three months before pregnancy and in the first trimester of pregnancy, reduces the risk of having another affected pregnancy by up to 70 percent.
  • This amount is available through prescription of four 1.0 mg tablets daily.

Share the Message

Through its prevention programs and services, SBA works with healthcare professionals to ensure this important information is reaching the 65 million women of childbearing age in the United States. You can help too! Use SBA’s resources to share the message with all the women in your life and the people who love them.

Here are some easy steps you can take to make a difference in the lives of the women you love:

  • Share SBA’s PSA videos on folic acid through your email and social media networks. Encourage your family and friends to share it with their own networks. Let’s take the folic acid message viral until every woman adds folic acid to their daily routine.
  • Give the gift of vitamins when a woman you love is celebrating a milestone in her life. Celebrating birthdays, leaving for college, starting a new job, getting engaged or married can all be great times to remind women that folic acid and its health benefits are an important part of daily life!
  • Remind your OB/GYN and other doctors about the importance of folic acid and encourage them to remind all of their female patients about its role in reducing the risk of neural tube defects like Spina Bifida among its many other health benefits.

Folic Acid Videos

Health Info Sheets