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October is Spina Bifida Awareness Month!

Can you name the birth defect that affects more children than muscular dystrophy, multiple sclerosis, and cystic fibrosis combined?

It’s spina bifida.  Although you probably already gleaned the answer from the title of this blog, that statistic is surprising to me because it seems like we hear more about the other conditions more than spina bifida.  But the fact is that one in every 1,400 children in the U.S. is born with this crippling condition.  That’s why Corner Stork Baby Gifts feels that it is important to spread the word about the condition, its causes and prevention.

What is Spina Bifida?

Spina Bifida is a type of neural tube defect (NTD)  that occurs within the first month of pregnancy in which the baby’s spinal cord is not fully enclosed within the backbone.  In some cases, the spinal cord and meninges may protrude. If the defect is not visible, the condition is called spina bifida occulta. But if there is a sac-like structure protruding from the spine, the condition is called spina bifida cystica.  Lifelong effects include varying degrees of paralysis, loss of feeling in the lower limbs, and bowel and bladder complications.

What are the risk factors and causes?

While birth defects can occur in any family, according to the Centers for Disease Control, there are some risk factors associated with spina bifida:

  • Poor Nutrition:  Before and during pregnancy, maintaining a diet that is rich in folic acid reduces the risk of having a child with a neural tube defect.  Cooked dried beans, peas, lentils, asparagus, spinach, green soybeans, broccoli, avocado, romaine lettuce, beets, Brussels sprouts, green peas, oranges, enriched grain products (like pasta, bread, and cold breakfast cereals), wheat germ, sunflower seeds, and peanuts are excellent sources of folic acid.
  • Genetics & Family History: People with a first-degree relative (parent, sibling) with spina bifida are 5 to 10 times more likely to have spina bifida than the greater population. A previous NTD-affected pregnancy increases a woman’s chance to have another NTD-affected pregnancy. Neural tube defects are more common among white women than black women and more common among Hispanic women than non-Hispanic women.
  • Other Medical Conditions: Maternal insulin-dependent diabetes, use of certain anti-seizure medications (Valproic acid/Depakene, and Carbamazapine/Tegretol), medically diagnosed obesity, and high temperatures in early pregnancy (i.e., prolonged fevers and hot tub use) may contribute to the development of the birth defect.

How To Reduce The Risk

We can’t change our genetics or medical history, but we can address the nutritional issues involved.  Studies have shown that taking a multivitamin with the B-vitamin folic acid reduces the risk of neural tube defects by up to 70%. The vitamin helps to build healthy cells, but it doesn’t stay in your system for very long. So women need to routinely take it every day, especially if they are planning to have a child.  Making sure it is already in your system is important because by the time most women discover they are pregnant they are beyond the critical first month when taking folic acid is most effective.

For more information about Spina Bifida, visit https://www.spinabifidaassociation.org

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