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Spina bifida

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Spina bifida is one of a class of birth defects, called neural tube defects. These defects involve damage to the spine and spinal cord.


Folic acid (vitamin B-9) plays an essential role in a baby's development. When taken in supplement form at least one month before conception and during the first trimester of pregnancy, folic acid reduces the risk of spina bifida and other neural tube defects by up to 70 percent.

The key is having enough folic acid in your system by the early weeks of pregnancy, before the neural tube closes.

In addition, eat a healthy diet, including foods rich in folate — the natural form of folic acid. This vitamin is present in many foods, including dried beans, citrus fruits, whole-grain products, and dark green vegetables such as broccoli and spinach. However, your body doesn't absorb folate as easily as it absorbs synthetic folic acid, and most people don't get the recommended amount of folate through diet alone, so vitamin supplements are necessary to prevent spina bifida.

It's possible that folic acid will also help reduce the risk of other birth defects, including cleft lip, cleft palate and some congenital heart defects. Folic acid may also help protect against some forms of cancer and heart disease.

If you have spina bifida or if you have a child with spina bifida, you'll need extra folic acid before you become pregnant. If you're taking anti-seizure medications or if you have diabetes, you also may benefit from a higher dose of this B vitamin. In these cases, the recommended dose of folic acid may be up to 4,000 mcg for up to three months before conception. If you think you need this increased amount of folic acid, ask your doctor for a prescription dose of the vitamin. Don't simply take extra multivitamins because the additional amounts of other vitamins may be harmful to you and your baby.

Coping skills

News that a newborn child has a devastating condition such as spina bifida can naturally cause parents to feel grief, anger, frustration, fear and sadness. Over time, though, many families grow to find that children with spina bifida can lead relatively active lives.

Most children with spina bifida can walk for at least short distances, usually with the assistance of braces, canes or crutches, although they may require wheelchairs for longer distances. Using these devices can help a child regain mobility that was lost as a result of the condition and gain more independence.

Many children with spina bifida have normal intelligence. But they may need early educational intervention for learning problems, and they may need extra help from teachers and counselors to adapt to school. A physical disability like spina bifida can also cause emotional and social problems. But children with spina bifida need encouragement to participate in activities with their peers and to lead independent lives, within their physical limitations and capabilities.

If your child has spina bifida, you may benefit from finding a support group of other parents who are dealing with the condition.

Spina bifida > 1 > 2 > 3 > 4

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