Simply taking an inexpensive vitamin daily during pregnancy can prevent life-threatening and disfiguring birth defects like spina bifida. According to providers at Parkland, expectant women who take adequate amounts of folic acid, a B vitamin, can prevent serious birth defects to their baby’s brain and spine, abnormalities known as neural tube defect that occur in the first few weeks of gestation. The staff of Parkland’s Women and Infants’ Specialty Health (WISH) division stresses the importance of nutrition in averting preventable and tragic birth defects.
As many as 3,000 babies are born each year in the United States with neural tube defect. Folic acid has been found to be very important for women considering pregnancy and during pregnancy in the prevention of neural tube defects. Folic acid is a B vitamin that every cell in the body needs for normal growth and development. The U.S. Public Health Service has recommended since 1992 that all women of childbearing age take 400 micrograms of folic acid per day to reduce the risk of neural tube defects that affect the brain and spinal cord.
“Even though awareness of folic acid’s important role in healthy fetal development has been around a long time, not all women have gotten this message,” said Ruby Taylor, Director of Nursing Advanced Practice, WISH Ambulatory at Parkland. “As health care providers, it is important for us to get the message out to women to seek early prenatal care.”
Taking folic acid daily during pregnancy could prevent up to 70 percent of some types of serious birth defects. Spina bifida, a birth defect of the spine, can cause paralysis of the lower body and learning disabilities. Another type of birth defect affects the brain and causes babies to die within a few days of birth.
“At Parkland Women’s Health Centers, all prenatal clients are started on folic acid and iron at their first visit to help ensure good outcomes for mother and baby,” Taylor stated. “Moms are encouraged to eat foods rich in folic acid such as leafy green vegetables, whole grain products and cereals enriched in folic acid. In addition, women who are seeking pregnancy receive pre-conception counseling that includes education about taking folic acid, proper nutrition and the avoidance of alcohol and smoking.”
“More than 90 percent of Parkland’s prenatal patients receive at least four prenatal care visits. The average number of visits for Parkland’s prenatal patients is nine,” stated Paula Turrichi, Senior Vice President, WISH. “Consistent prenatal care leads to healthier moms and babies, better birth outcomes and lower neonatal and infant mortality,” she added.
Because up to half of all pregnancies are not planned, it’s important for women of childbearing age to get enough folic acid daily if there is any chance they could become pregnant.
“It’s a seemingly small thing that can make a huge difference in the health of your baby,” Taylor said.