According to the Centers For Disease Control, nearly 300,000 babies, worldwide are born each year, with neural tube defects.
 These birth defects, resulting in lifelong disability, (or death) occur early in pregnancy when the brain and spine are forming and do not properly close. In the U.S. alone, 3000 babies are affected by NTD’s yearly.
Neural Tube Defects—Staggering Costs
The two most common NT birth defects include spina bifida, (a defect of the spine), and anencephaly, (a defect of the brain). For babies born with anencephaly, sadly the prognosis is grim. Because they are born with a major portion of the brain, skull, and scalp missing, infants with this neural tube defect rarely live more than a few hours. The cost of spina bifida for parents and caregivers is staggering as well. Individuals born with this birth defect may incur a lifetime cost upwards of $790,000. Collectively, medical care and surgery can reach $200 million.
Prenatal Vitamins and Vitamin B12 Fortification
Over the past few decades, the CDC has worked with healthcare agencies, and other government entities to promote the need for supplemental folic acid in the diet of pregnant women. While research in this area continues, scientists do know there is a direct link between folic acid deficiency and neural tube defects, created in the first 3-4 weeks after conception. This risk is significantly reduced through daily prenatal vitamins containing 400 micrograms of folic acid. In addition to the widespread promotion of prenatal vitamins, folic acid was further added to many cereals and grain products in the U.S. by 1998.
Pregnancy Vitamins—Necessary Nutrients
According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, good prenatal vitamins should contain key nutrients for maximum support of both mother and baby.
The following vitamins and minerals help support a healthy pregnancy:
Calcium—This builds strong bones and teeth and is found in many dairy products and dark leafy vegetables. The recommended daily value is 1000-1300 milligrams.
Iron—Iron facilitates the delivery of oxygen to the baby through red blood cells. Found in red meat, poultry, beans, and fortified cereals. 27 milligrams per day is recommended. Women deficient in iron during pregnancy may also develop anemia.
Vitamin A—Healthy skin, eyesight, and bone growth depend on vitamin A. 770 micrograms are recommended daily and can be found in carrots and dark green leafy vegetables.
Vitamin C—This promotes healthy gums, teeth and bones and is naturally contained in citrus, broccoli, and strawberries. 85 milligrams per day is recommended.
Vitamin D—600 international units daily is recommended for helping to build baby’s bones and teeth. Received from sunlight, fatty fish, and fortified milk, vitamin D also promotes healthy skin and eyesight.
Vitamin B6—Found in many meats and whole grain cereals, 1.9 milligrams daily helps the body form red blood cells and use protein, fat, and carbohydrates efficiently.
Vitamin B12—This nutrient helps maintain the body’s nervous system, necessary to form red blood cells. Obtained from meat, fish, poultry and milk, 2.6 micrograms is needed daily.
Folic acid—Found naturally in dark leafy vegetables and also in fortified cereals and orange juice, folic acid prevents neural tube birth defects involving the brain and spine. 600 micrograms are recommended each day to support a growing baby during pregnancy.
Prenatal Vitamins With DHA and Iodine
Docosahexaenoic acid, otherwise known as DHA is an omega-3 fatty acid that aids in the baby’s brain and eye development. Contained in fish, milk, eggs, and fortified orange juice, DHA is necessary in 200 milligrams during pregnancy. Iodine helps the baby’s brain and nervous system develop during pregnancy as well. Found in fish, milk, cheese, and fortified cereal and bread, iodine is needed in 220 micrograms daily during pregnancy as well. While some prenatal vitamins contain DHA and iodine, other formulas do not.
*Healthcare providers can guide women regarding the necessity for supplementation with DHA and iodine.
Vitamins For Pregnancy—Government Recommendations
Because half of all pregnancies in the United States are unplanned, the Centers for Disease Control now advises that all females between the ages of 15 and 45 should take folic acid daily. This helps eliminate the possible risk of NT defects in the early stages of pregnancy, before most women even know they are pregnant. Prenatal vitamins may be delivered in powders, sprays, liquids, tablets, and capsules and should not be consumed with any other vitamin supplement.
Despite the reduction in numbers of neural tube defects in pregnancy after folic acid fortification (from 4100 to 3000 a year), a 2007 national study indicated that only 40% of women of childbearing age reported taking folic acid daily as a precautionary measure to possible pregnancy. As a nation committed to raising awareness about NT birth defects and working to further prevent them, the hope is that this practice will someday become standard and commonplace.
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