What Causes Spina Bifida?

The short answer is, "We aren't sure". Presently, there is no known cause for spina bifida although there are theories.

While women who give birth to a baby with SB are slightly more likely to give birth to another baby with SB, it is unclear whether SB has a genetic component making one woman more susceptible than another. Other factors include diet, medications and environment.

It is believed that certain medications present in the body during the first weeks of pregnancy may contribute to SB. The medications most cited are anticonvulsants and diabetes medications.

Additional possible causes often cited are: Obesity, being too hot during the first few weeks of pregnancy (such as a hot tub, hot shower, fever, electric blanket), and binge drinking during the first few weeks of pregnancy.

How can women decrease their chances of having a baby with SB?

1) Take at least .4mg of folic acid a day - even if you are not planning on getting pregnant.

It is estimated that the chance of spina bifida occurring can be reduced by up to 70% if women take folic acid supplements. It is for this reason that in 1998 the FDA began requiring that all enriched grain products in the US be fortified with folic acid.

The standard recommended supplement is .4mg (my wife's pre-natal vitamins contained .8mg - twice the recommended dosage). That being said, women who have had a child with spina bifida in the past are encouraged to take up to 5mg a day - more than twelve times the normal dosage.

For folic acid to be effective in reducing the occurrence of SB, a woman should be taking supplements at least three months before conception. For this reason, the Spina Bifida Association of America encourages all women of child bearing age, regardless of sexual activity to take Folic Acid supplements.

Some women have shown an inability to properly absorb Folic Acid. If you suspect you may have a problem absorbing folic acid, consult with your doctor.

2) If you are on any medications, find out now from your doctor if any of them may pose a threat to a pregnancy (even if you are not planning on becoming pregnant). By the time you realize you are pregnant - it may be too late.

3) Avoid extreme heat when possible. If you are lightheaded in the jacuzzi, shower, tub etc., you have over done it.

4) Of course, binge drinking is never a good idea - and now you have one more reason to add to the list.

5) Pay attention to your body - if you think you might be pregnant, start acting as if you are until proven otherwise. Those first three to four weeks are intensely critical to your baby's development.

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