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Preventing Neural Tube Defects

Preventing Neural Tube Defects

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You can decrease the odds that your children will be born with a neural tube defect, even if you're not pregnant yet. Any woman that is thinking about having children at one point should be increasing folate. Folate is found in many foods, as well as synthetically as folic acid in supplements. This B vitamin is necessary before conception and in the first few weeks of pregnancy to prevent neural tube defects. These neural tube defects can develop before you're even aware that you're pregnant, so take a folic acid supplement even if you aren't planning on conceiving anytime soon.

Neural tube defects affect the spinal cord and brain, and can have serious consequences. Spina bifida occurs when the spine doesn't fuse properly during development, and the baby is born with the spine protruding from the back. Surgery is performed at birth, but the child will suffer from varying levels of paralysis, pain and weakness in the back and legs. Most children will need leg braces or a wheelchair, and about 30 percent are born with mental retardation. Anencephaly causes death soon after birth, as the baby's brain is seriously undeveloped.

You can find folate in fruits, leafy green vegetables, enriched grain products, and dried beans. The FDA requires any enriched grain product to be fortified with folic acid, so eat enriched pasta, rice and cereal to up your intake. Any women that could become pregnant should be getting at least 400 micrograms per day before conception, and 800 micrograms a day during the pregnancy. A folic acid supplement is needed in addition to food sources, as women won't get enough from food alone.

There are other factors that contribute to neural tube defects: a family history of these defects, diabetes, overheating during pregnancy, and being severely overweight. Neural tube defects are more common among poorer women, who can't afford a nutritious diet or prenatal supplements. While you can't eliminate all of the risks of your baby being born with a neural tube defect, you can minimize the odds by ensuring that you are getting enough folate. It's easy to add folate to your diet: drink a glass of orange juice in the morning with breakfast, and serve vegetables like broccoli or spinach with meals. Always look for enriched grain products, and make sure that you are taking your folic acid supplement each day.


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