Dr. Dana Block-Abraham is a Board Certified OB/GYN and Board Eligible Maternal-Fetal Medicine Specialist with Perinatal Associates of Northern Virginia. Dr. Block-Abraham serves patients at the Inova Loudoun Hospital Antenatal Testing Center.
Are you a woman who still has periods and is trying to conceive? If so, you should consider taking a daily prenatal vitamin – even if you’re not expecting. Why? A daily prenatal vitamin taken for three months before getting pregnant can prevent a severe birth defect known as myelomeningocele (spina bifida) by more than 70 percent.
Myelomeningocele is a serious condition that occurs when the bones of the spine do not properly come together to protect the spinal cord early in pregnancy. The spinal cord therefore sticks out of the baby’s back, usually within a sac, and allows fluid to build up within the baby’s brain. Babies with myelomeningocele require surgery – sometimes several – to cover the exposed spinal cord and to relieve pressure on the brain caused by the fluid. Babies with myelomeningocele may never be able to walk or control their bowel and bladder function.
A vitamin called folic acid (or folate) plays an important role in the formation of the baby’s spinal cord and backbone. A folic acid supplement of 400-800 mcg per day is recommended to prevent myelomeningocele and is available over-the-counter as a vitamin supplement. Alternatively, supplements marketed as “prenatal” vitamins typically contain at least 400 mcg of folic acid (be sure to read the label).
When a woman becomes pregnant and does not have enough folic acid in her system, her risk of having a baby with myelomeningocele is higher. Because the spinal cord and spine form so early in pregnancy, many women do not realize they are pregnant at the time folic acid supplementation is most essential. This is why a daily prenatal vitamin taken for at least three months before conception is recommended.
Women who are obese, who have diabetes, who have sickle cell disease, or who take seizure medications are at higher risk of having babies with spina bifida and should ideally talk to their doctors about additional folic acid supplements before getting pregnant.
Learn more about the Antenatal Testing Center near you:
Inova Loudoun Hospital Antenatal Testing Center
Inova Loudoun Medical Campus
Inova James G. Sites Antenatal Testing Center
Inova Fairfax Medical Campus
Inova Brock Family Antenatal Testing Center
Inova Alexandria Medical Campus