Folic Acid and Spina Bifida

Folic acid is a B vitamin that can be found in some enriched foods and vitamin pills. If women have enough of it in their bodies before pregnancy, this can help to prevent birth defects of the baby’s brain or spine such as spina bifida and anencephaly. Folic acid can help form a baby’s brain and spine. Getting enough takes a small effort. But it can make a big difference.

The U.S. Public Health Service recommends that all women who could become pregnant get 400 micrograms of folic acid daily to help prevent Neural Tube Defects (NTDs) such  as spina bifida. I order to get these levels women would need to have a healthy diet which includes food rich in or fortified with folic acid. But sometimes a good diet is not enough.



To ensure proper intake of folic acid women can also take a daily multivitamin containing folic acid. Today, most of these contain the recommended amounts and are made for easy and better absorption by the body. Vitamin pills containing only folic acid are also available. 

No one expects an unplanned pregnancy. But they happen –everyday. In fact, about half of all pregnancies are not planned. That is why women should get enough folic acid every day if there is any chance that they may become pregnant. Because by the time most women find out that they are pregnant, their baby’s brain and spine are already formed.

Data and Statistics on Folic Acid

Each year in the United States

  • There are 3,000 pregnancies affected by spina bifida or anencephaly, which are neural tube defects (NTDs) caused by the incomplete closing of the spine and skull.
  • An estimated 1,000 more babies are born healthy since fortification.
  • 50% to 70% of these NTDs could be prevented if women took 400 mcg of folic acid daily, before and during pregnancy.
  • Half of all pregnancies are unplanned.

Use of Supplements Containing Folic Acid Among Women of Childbearing Age — United States

Among all women of childbearing age:

  • 40% reported taking folic acid daily. 
  • 81% reported awareness of folic acid. 
  • 12% reported knowing that folic acid should be taken before pregnancy.