Did you know that in an average day in the U.S....

- 10,799 babies are born
- 411 babies are born with a birth defect
- 17 babies die as the result of a birth defect,

   the leading cause of infant mortality.

The Good News
is that there are some things that you can do to help...
  • Take 400 mcg of folic acid, a B-vitamin, every day before and during
    pregnancy to help prevent some serious birth defects.
  • Eat folate-rich fruits and vegetables such as oranges, asparagus,
    spinach, broccoli, and peas.
  • Consume grains fortified with folic acid such as some breads, noodles,
    cereals, cornmeal and rice.
  • Avoid alcohol, tobacco, street drugs when pregnant.
  • Discuss diet, exercise and medication use with your health care
    provider before and during pregnancy.

For more information follow the links below or call us toll free at 866-274-4237

Folic Acid
Investigations over the past twenty to thirty years have demonstrated that folic acid, a B vitamin, is critical for the normal development of a human fetus. The primary benefit of adequate intake of folic acid is a reduction of a category of birth defects known as neural tube defects. These defects represent a failure of normal closure of the spinal canal (spina bifida) or failure of the top portion of the skull and brain to develop (anencephaly). Folic acid is essential for rapid cell division essential to make tissues and organs in the fetus. More research is needed to understand specifically how folic acid works.

If a woman has delivered a child with a neural tube defect, the risk this will happen in a subsequent pregnancy is about 3%. In this circumstance, a prescription for folic acid will be given to the mother. She will be instructed to take of folic acid daily from 1 to 2 months prior to any subsequent attempt to conceive another child and through the months of the pregnancy.

A major public health effort is underway to educate the population about the benefits of adequate consumption of folic acid. The U.S. Public Health Service has recommended that all women of reproductive age consume 0.4 milligrams of folic acid daily. To help insure that more women are adequately supplemented, the Food and Drug Administration has fortified grain products with increased folic acid. A healthy diet which emphasizes fresh fruits, green leafy vegetables (e.g.,spinach, broccoli, asparagus), orange juice, enriched whole grain foods and fortified cereals will allow some women to achieve the recommended daily intake of folic acid.

Many women, however, will remain undersupplemented. While fortification offers some protection, this strategy is not optimal unless used in combination with a vitamin supplement. The current recommendation therefore, is to consume a healthy diet rich in folic acid, but to also take a multivitamin daily which contains 0.4 milligrams of folic acid. If every female of childbearing age in the United States followed this recommendation, it is estimated that the incidence of neural tube defects would be decreased by at least 50%.

Other health benefits may also be associated with the daily consumption of adequate folic acid. Abnormalities in the development of the heart, limbs, urinary tract, lips and palate may be decreased. However, more studies need to be done to know definitively whether folic acid will decrease these defects, as has been the case for neural tube defects.

There are also studies which show that some of the more serious health problems which affect adults, such as heart attacks and strokes, may occur less frequently in individuals who consume the recommended daily dose, 0.4 milligrams of folic acid. More research is needed to clarify the effects of folic acid in the prevention of these types of diseases, but the message is clear regarding the potential benefits related to consuming folic acid starting in the teen years and continuing throughout life.

Neural Tube Defects

What are they?
Neural tube defects are a group of disorders caused by failure of development of the structures which form and enclose the spinal cord and brain. These conditions are among the most common birth defects, affecting about 1 in 1,000 infants born in Iowa or about 40 cases per year. Approximately half of these defects are openings in the spine (spina bifida), which lead to a loss of sensation and muscle control below the opening. In the remainder of cases, the top of the brain and skull do not develop. This condition, called anencephaly, leads to death of the infant.

How are they detected?
A protein called alphafetoprotein (AFP) is made in the fetal liver. When a fetus has an open neural tube defect, this protein leaks through the defect and becomes elevated in the bloodstream of the mother. Roughly 85% of neural tube defects can be detected by measuring AFP in the mother's blood between 15 to 20 weeks of pregnancy. If the AFP is elevated and the fetus has a neural tube defect, an ultrasound (using sound waves) can usually determine the location and extent of the neural tube defect.

What are the risk factors?
An insufficient level of folic acid is a risk factor for neural tube defects. Women who take a multivitamin containing folic acid every day can decrease their chance of having a child with a neural tube defect by up to 50%. The risk also decreases in women eating a diet with higher levels of folic acid. The neural tube closes within 28 days after conception, often before a woman is aware she is pregnant. For this reason it is important that folic acid be taken before beginning a pregnancy.

Related Links

Iowa Department of Public Health - www.idph.state.ia.us
Spina Bifida Association of America - www.sbaa.org
March of Dimes - www.modimes.org
Healthy Mothers Health Babies Coalition - www.hmhb.org



home / what is a birth defect? / risk factors & prevention / data & statistics / research projects
health links / about the registry / staff / publications / contact info